FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, November 08, 2004

Purple Reign

Tired of election post-analysis and discussion of the red vs. blue cultural divide? Yeah, me too. But get used to it, as we keep analyizing the impact of a second Bush administration on our future. At any rate, here's one tidbit that's worthy of discussion...

USA Today
has published a map of election results by county, showing which counties voted for Bush (red) and Kerry (blue).

At first blush, the most striking feature of this map is how overwhelmingly red it is. Conservative bloggers such as Michelle Malkin have used this map to argue that support for Bush runs much broader than even the state-based electoral maps suggest.

But take a closer look. Although red counties far outnumber blue ones, the blue counties are largely clustered around major population centers. In other words, while the red counties have the geographic edge, the blue counties have the demographic advantage.

Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan have produced several cartograms that distort the electoral map based on population (highly populated areas are enlarged). The following is their cartogram of the electoral map by county:

Suddenly, the red areas aren't so dominant anymore...

Second, note that, with some exceptions, most states have a mix of red and blue counties. Some red states may only have a couple of blue flecks... but again, those are generally population centers. So, instead of being divided between red and blue states, we're a collection of "purple" states. No matter how "red" or "blue" a state is, few are monoliths, and not everyone there thinks alike.

Nothing illustrates this phenomenon more clearly than this annotated map by cartographer Paul Fly (click here to see an enlarged, zoomable version). On this map, the only areas colored red or blue are those that voted 100% (or close to it) for Bush or Kerry respectively. Everything else is a shade of purple.

So what does this all mean? It means that we're more diverse than some of us like to admit. We have to figure out ways to cooperate, compromise and work together if we're going to accomplish anything in the coming years. Yet is also means that we have very real differences that we're going to have to accept and overcome.

NOTE: "Gray" counties are those whose vote counts haven't been tallied fully as of this date. USA Today updates this map continually, so check it regularly to watch gray counties fill in with either red or blue.