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Crockpot 08.31.12: Maps Edition

Red Globe  

There has been no shortage of map-based predictions of this year’s election, with all eyes on the 95-odd tossup electors, especially the ones in Ohio and Florida. One of the more interesting takes has been the map center at PBS.org, which lets you compare solid and swing states against demographic data (their Patchwork Nation map series is also really worth checking out). But David Sparks, a Duke political scientist, has a more fine-tuned approach. Almost all election maps, he realized, were choropleth, meaning only differences between states or counties could be shown. An isarthmic map, on the other hand, allows you to see gradations and contours that don’t necessarily fall into concrete political boundaries.

So Sparks created an isarthmic election map—quite possibly the first of its kind—which lets us see the informal political boundaries that simpler maps often miss. What’s more, he created a time-lapse of presidential returns from 1920 to 2008, which gives us a dramatic portrait of how our political landscape changed over much of the last century. You can see it here, on Ecopolitology. What stands out more than anything is just how solid the South has almost always been, whether as staunch Dixiecrats before the Civil Rights Act, or as a reliable GOP base since Nixon. It also illustrates the huge, long-term changes that accompanied elections like 1932, 1960, and 1980—and of course 2008.


Wasn’t this in Russia? Yanko Tsvetkov’s amusing Mapping Stereotypes project on Brain Pickings explores the world through the unforgiving eyes of Russians, Americans, and a few others. You can check out the rest on Tsvetkov’s blog. One of the best is Asia According to Americans, with Central Asia divided between “WTF-stan,” “Vietnam 2.0,” and “Borat.”


Maps have also been a big part of this year’s climate change debate. NASA’s Arctic melt imagery seems to be everywhere this summer, along with equally foreboding graphics like this one from the U.S. Drought Monitor. A little more optimistically, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has devised a series of maps showing the nation’s best hotspots for renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal, available at Grist. The upshot seems to be that Americans west of the Mississippi have the greatest potential to develop sustainable energy, whether it’s wind farms in the Great Plains, solar in the Southwest, or geothermal in the Mountain States.

And a little less optimistically, the Center for Global Development has mapped where the worst effects of climate change are likely to strike, from severe weather to sea level rise, to famine. The results are kind of what experts have been saying for a while now: while the U.S. may see more extreme weather, the biggest overall risks remain in the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa. A key challenge for Northern countries may be how to respond to humanitarian crises and disasters that are likely to erupt in the Third World.


What if our maps are wrong? In cities with a lot public transit, official maps of the subway or train systems are almost always distorted, says Smithsonian Magazine. Usually that means making downtown way too big, which is what Chicago and San Francisco do. But in some cities, like London and New York, the errors go a step further, putting streets in the wrong place and misplacing intersections. Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, for instance, is completely out of whack, says Smithsonian. OK, so how much does it all matter? Apparently a lot. Distorted maps influence people’s commutes and rides, and might even get them lost. So much for efficiency.

Image by Kieran Lynam, licensed under Creative Commons.