‘Empty Land Doesn’t Vote’ and Other Hot Takes

New York Times (screen capture)

The hot takes about the New York Times’s detailed map of the 2016 U.S. presidential election results (see previous entry) have been coming in fast. Most of the critiques focus on the map’s failure to address population density: a sparsely populated but huge precinct appears to have more significance than a tiny district crowded by people. See, for example, Andrew Middleton’s post on Medium, Keir Clarke’s post on Maps Mania or this post on Wonkette—or, for that matter, a good chunk of cartographic Twitter for the past few days. (It’s not just Ken, is what I’m saying.)

The responses to those critiques generally do two things. They point out that the map had a specific purpose—as the Times’s Josh Katz says, “we wanted to use the 2016 results to make a tool that depicted the contours of American political geography in fine detail, letting people explore the places they care about block by block.” As he argues in the full Twitter thread, showing population density was not the point: other maps already do that. Others explore the “empty land doesn’t vote” argument: Tom MacWright thinks that’s “mostly a bogus armchair critique.” Bill Morris critiques the “acres don’t vote” thesis in more detail.

Relatedly, Wired had a piece last Thursday on the different ways to map the U.S. election results, in which Ken Field’s gallery of maps plays a leading role.

Previously: The New York Times’s Very Detailed Map of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.

The New York Times’s Very Detailed Map of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

New York Times (screen capture)

It’s 2018. The 2016 U.S. presidential election is nearly two years in the past. But that didn’t stop the New York Times from unleashing a new map of the 2016 election results earlier this week. On the surface it’s a basic choropleth map: nothing new on that front. But this map drills down a bit further: showing the results by precinct, not just by county. The accompanying article sets out what the Times is trying to accomplish: “On the neighborhood level, many of us really do live in an electoral bubble, this map shows: More than one in five voters lived in a precinct where 80 percent of the two-party vote went to Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But the map also reveals surprising diversity.”

Kenneth Field has some objections to the map. “So you have smaller geographical areas. Detailed, yes. Accurate, certainly. Useful? Absolutely not because of the way the map was made.” It’s a choropleth map that doesn’t account for population: “An area that has 100 voters and 90 of them voted Republican is shown as dark red and a 90% share. Exactly the same symbol would be used for an area that has 100,000 voters, 90,000 of whom voted Republican.” It gets worse when that thinly populated precinct is geographically larger. (Not only that: the map uses Web Mercator—it is built with Mapbox—so Alaska is severely exaggerated at small scales.) There are, Ken says, other maps that account for population density (not least of which his own dot density map).

The Times map has a very specific purpose, and Ken is going after it for reasons that aren’t really relevant to that purpose. The map is aimed at people looking at their own and surrounding neighbourhoods: the differences in area and population between a precinct in Wyoming and a precinct in Manhattan wouldn’t normally come up. It works at large scales, whereas Ken’s point is more about small scales: zoom out and the map becomes misleading, or at the very least just as problematic as (or no more special than) any other, less granular choropleth map that doesn’t account for population. The map isn’t meant to be small-scale, doesn’t work at small scales, but then people regularly use maps for reasons not intended by the mapmaker. The mistake, I suspect, is making a map that does not work at every scale available at every scale.

Update: See this post for more reactions to the map.

The Gerrymanderers

When we talk about gerrymandering, about redrawing the political map to favour one’s own party at the expense of another, we talk a lot about the maps themselves. The mapmakers, not so much. Check out this New York Times article on the political consultants who do the redrawing; it focuses on the electoral map of Maryland, which like several other states’ maps is the focus of a court challenge. The process has become even more refined as more and more data becomes available to feed into the redistricting maw.

The Times article points to a similar, earlier article that appeared in the October 2012 issue of The Atlantic and goes into even more depth: “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.” [Leventhal]

Mapping the Earthquake in Central Mexico

The New York Times

This crowdsourced map of collapsed and damaged buildings in Mexico City (in Spanish) appeared shortly after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit central Mexico on 19 September [via]. NASA also produced a map, based on radar data from the ESA’s Copernicus satellites that compared the state of the region before and after the quake. Interestingly, the data was validated against the crowdsourced map.

The New York Times produced maps showing the pattern of damage in Mexico City and the extent and severity of earthquake shaking (the Times graphics department’s version of the quake’s Shake Map, I suppose) as well as how Mexico City’s geology—it was built on the drained basin of Lake Texcoco—made the impact of the quake much worse.

Repairing and Cleaning Old New York Maps

In yesterday’s New York Times, a piece on efforts by the New York City Municipal Archives to preserve the city’s earliest maps and architectural drawings.

Inside the lab, conservators talk about the care of antique maps like a doctor discusses a patient’s condition and treatment in an intensive care unit.

Conservators will lay a given map on a table for an exam and diagnose the issue: Is it brittle or burned? Damaged by water or tape? Crumbly, delaminated or peeling? Then they record the treatment in a chart of sorts so that years later, the next caretaker will know what remedy was given.

The repair process of a map—like that for a more than 200-year-old, torn illustration of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—typically takes several hours, though sometimes the conservators will spend days working on just one.


Tracking Hurricane Irma

Washington Post

As they did with Hurricane Harvey, both the New York Times and the Washington Post graphics departments have frequently updated map pages showing the projected path and impact of Hurricane Irma. The Times’ page looks at the hurricane’s current and projected path, threat of coastal flooding, and areas under evacuation, plus some context; the Post maps Irma’s forecasted path on this page and the potential storm surge and evacuation zones on this page, while this page compares Irma’s size to past hurricanes.

Mapping Hurricane Harvey’s Impact

Washington Post

The Washington Post maps rainfall and flooding levels in the Houston area.

The New York Times is collecting several maps on two web pages. The first page deals with subjects like rainfall, river level, current and historical hurricane tracks, damage reports, and cities and counties under evacuation orders. Maps on the second page look at Harvey’s impact on the Houston area.

Esri’s U.S. Flooding Public Information Map includes precipitation and flood warnings.

Kenneth Field critiques the National Weather Service’s decision to add more colours to their precipitation maps (see above). “Simply adding colours to the end of an already poor colour scheme and then making the class representing the largest magnitude the very lightest colour is weak symbology. But then, they’ve already used all the colours of the rainbow so they’re out of options!”

New York Times Maps Receive Infographic Award

The New York Times

The New York Times Graphics Department was recognized at the 25th Malofiej International Infographics Awards, where the jury awarded the special Miguel Urabayen Award for the best map to two Times maps: “Trump’s America” in the printed category and “The Two Americas of 2016” (above) in the online category. Press release. [The History of Cartography Project]

Duck Dynasty and Donald Trump

The New York Times

Last month the New York Times mapped the U.S. cultural divide by looking at television viewing preferences. More precisely, the geographic distribution of viewership for the 50 most-liked TV shows. The correlation between Duck Dynasty fandom and voting for Trump was higher than for any other show. More surprisingly, the show most correlated with voting for Clinton? Family Guy.

The New York Times Maps the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

The New York Times

The New York Times has a first-rate graphics department, and they’ve come up with some stunning ways to depict the 2016 U.S. presidential election results. They updated their maps of so-called “landslide counties” (see previous entry), which was straightforward enough. Their feature on how Trump reshaped the election map, with arrows showing the county-by-county swing (red and to the right for Trump, blue and to the left for Clinton), was unexpectedly good. But their maps of the Two Americas (above), imagining Trump’s America and Clinton’s America as separate countries, with bodies of water replacing the areas won by their opponents—Trump’s America is nibbled at the edges by coastlines and pockmarked by lakes; Clinton’s is an archipelago—is quite simply a work of art. Incredible, incredible work.

More Election Cartography Primers

The New York Times

Today, print subscribers to the New York Times were treated to a fold-out map showing a choropleth map of the 2012 election results at the ZIP code level (above). “The map is part of a special election section that aims to help explain the political geography of the United States — identifying where people who are conservative and liberal live and pointing out how physical boundaries, like the Rio Grande and the Cascade Mountains, often align with political ones,” writes the Times’s Alicia Parlapiano.

Parlapiano’s piece is in fact a lengthy tutorial on how to read election maps, along the lines of the pages I linked to in last week’s post on election map cartography—it outlines the problems of state-level election maps and choropleth maps that privilege area over population, for example, and shows some other ways of depicting the results.

It can’t be a coincidence that in today’s Washington Post we have Lazaro Gamio’s article dramatically highlighting the difference between area and population size with comparative maps. Mark Newman’s cartograms also make an appearance.

I can only conclude that both the Times and the Post are making efforts to educate their readers before the election results start coming in, one week from tonight. (Deep breath.)

Mapping Obamacare

The New York Times
The New York Times

The New York Times maps the decline in the numbers of the uninsured since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Over all, the gains are substantial: a seven-percentage-point drop in the uninsured rate for adults. But there remain troublesome regional patterns. Many people in the South and the Southwest still don’t have a reliable way to pay for health care, according to the new, detailed numbers from a pair of groups closely tracking enrollment efforts. Those patterns aren’t an accident. As our maps show, many of the places with high uninsured rates had poor coverage before the Affordable Care Act passed. They tend to be states with widespread poverty and limited social safety nets. Look at Mississippi and Texas, for example.

Mapping Same-Sex Marriage in America

The New York Times
The New York Times

The number of same-sex marriages in the United States is not directly tracked. But a new Treasury Department research paper has been able to come up with a count of same-sex marriages by looking at jointly filed tax returns; the New York Times story is accompanied by a nice interactive map of such marriages by zip code. [MAPS-L]

The Geography of American Incarceration

The New York Times
The New York Times

The New York Times maps “the geography of American incarceration,” in an investigative piece that includes an interactive map showing prison admissions per county. They’ve diverged sharply in recent years: less populous, more rural, more conservative counties are doubling down on being tough on crime.

Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties.

They’re also more likely to get much stiffer sentences—something the map is not able to track.