Fun with maps: a “catrogram” explains US politics

By Christopher B. Daly 

A hat-tip to The New Republic for this piece about how to visualize our current political alignments. (And a double hat-tip to UMichigan researcher Mark Newman who thought this up.) The key to understanding this view of politics is a device known as a “cartogram” — which is a map that depicts geography according to some criterion other than space. So, if you map the United States based on the density of population, then the big empty spaces don’t register very much.

To dramatize:

Here’s a conventional map showing the United States in terms of counties, with red depicting counties that are majority Republican and blue depicting ones that are majority Democratic. It’s a gorgeous map but very misleading, because it creates the impression that the U.S. is basically a “red” country with some pockets of “blue.” If I were a Republican, this is the kind of map that would encourage me to think about taking “my” country “back.”









But, of course, that’s not the whole story. In fact, the country has a narrow Democratic majority. But how to depict that?

This cartogram is one way:



In the cartogram, units of space are resized to reflect the population of each county and the margin of victory in the last presidential election. This view makes the U.S. look like a bluish/purplish country with some red swirls mixed in. Very different visual impact.

Here is a link to Newman’s software, so you can make your own cartograms!

For a different view of U.S. politics, consider this cartogram by the NYTimes. It makes me want to move to North Dakota or Wyoming — almost.



This map shows each state re-sized in proportion to the relative influence of the individual voters who live there. The numbers indicate the total delegates to the Electoral College from each state, and how many eligible voters a single delegate from each state represents.

1 Comment

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One response to “Fun with maps: a “catrogram” explains US politics

  1. Ji Prendergast

    Outstanding display, , it pays to be re-calibrated in the “real” world, , , God forbid, that we should live our lives by the information in the 30 second sound bites, that suffice for real news in todays 24 hour news cycle!


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