I’m a sucker for a good map. Three weeks ago I found a used book store inmarion190downtown Topeka that also sold 1886 Kansas Atlas maps of counties and small towns. And, of course, walked out with a large, 120 year old map highlighting all of towns in 1886 Marion County, Kansas.

Very cool stuff!

So when I ran across the Maps of the 2008 US Presidential Election Results web site, I had to stop and spend some time. M. E. J. Newman has put together some very cool maps that help us better understand the presidential election results from November 2008.

I was reminded of a great book I read several years ago titled How to Lie with Maps. The book does a wonderful job of showing how biased maps and geography can be and how easy it is to convince people of “untruths” using purposefully deceptive mapping techniques.

Newman uses the map below to document the November 2008 election basically in terms of electoral votes. Each state gets a specific color based on whether the majority of voters in that state went Democrat or Republican.standard-view1

Looking at this map it gives the impression that the Republicans won the election handily, since there is rather more red on the map than there is blue. In fact, however, the reverse is true – the Democrats won by a substantial margin. The explanation for this apparent paradox, as pointed out by many people, is that the map fails to take account of the population distribution. It fails to allow for the fact that the population of the red states is on average significantly lower than that of the blue ones. The blue may be small in area, but they represent a large number of voters, which is what matters in an election.

Newman suggests the use of a specific type of map called a cartogram to more accurately depict reality. When he does that, the map changes dramatically.


This type of map makes it easier to see how Obama won the majority of electoral votes because it uses population, not area. This becomes even more apparent when we look at the same data but we drill down to the county level. A map using area as its basis now looks like this:


Using a Newman cartogram that focuses on population instead of area, the map changes again:


Now we can start to have some really good conversations with our kids!

Don’t ya just love a good map?