Monday, November 3, 2008

The real election map: Take heart, fellow liberals

If you live in a blue state, it's easy to feel like sad anomalies as you watch Election Night maps get color-coded. The map at the top is much less depressing than the one at the bottom. And it's more accurate too.

Both of these maps reflect the results of the 2004 Presidential contest between John Kerry and George W. Bush. The map at the bottom "gives the superficial impression that the 'red states' dominate the country, since they cover far more area than the blue ones," says a trio of researchers at the University of Michigan. "However, as pointed out by many others, this is misleading because it fails to take into account the fact that most of the red states have small populations, whereas most of the blue states have large ones. The blue may be small in area, but they are large in terms of numbers of people, which is what matters in an election."

Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan corrected this distortion by using a cartogram, "a map in which the sizes of states have been rescaled according to their population. That is, states are drawn with a size proportional not to their sheer topographic acreage—which has little to do with politics—but to the number of their inhabitants, states with more people appearing larger than states with fewer, regardless of their actual area on the ground. Thus, on such a map, the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.1 million inhabitants, would appear about twice the size of Wyoming, which has half a million, even though Wyoming has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island."

The Michigan scholars will be preparing a similar re-interpretation of the traditional election map used in tomorrow's presidential election. The map will be available on their Web site Nov. 5, 2008.

The swirly, psychedelic shape should provide additional comfort to Obama supporters, who are already hopped up on hope.

Groovy, man.

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