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Monday, November 12, 2012

States, Population, and the Shape of the Political Map

Aftermath: A Distorted View of America 

When the Wall Street Journal published a detailed red-and-blue map of the counties that voted for either party just three days after Election Day, it looked like a Republican cartographer’s wet dream. However, the map baffled many on the right: How could the rendering still be as red as a bloody meat wrapper when President Obama roundly defeated Governor Romney in the Electoral College 332 to 206?
The G.O.P. treated the map like a bandage for its recent election wounds and many on the right used it as a way of showing “how much more divided our country has become.” They cried that the Electoral College is antiquated and should be eradicated; Furthermore they simply couldn’t believe how all those tiny blue dots could end up calling the shots in that mass of red.

Below is the map from The Wall Street Journal that shows the county-by-county breakdown. The average viewer could be deceived into thinking that the Republicans were correct in saying that the country was more divided, and if you glanced at the newspaper in the check-out line and walked away you’d think Obama’s second term was already illegitimate. But that is far from the case: More Americans actually live in those smaller, densely populated blue specks, and those urban areas are overwhelmingly Democratic.
Mark Newman, from the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, created the below cartogram, which has been re-scaled and distorted to show the country based on population.  (The various shades are for delineation purposes only.)
The top ten most populous states in descending order as of July 1, 2011, are:
  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. New York
  4. Florida
  5. Illinois
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. Ohio
  8. Michigan
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
Seven of those ten states went blue; the exceptions were Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Note how the red states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota seem vice-griped into a tiny nugget in the northwestern part of the Continental U.S.
All five of the aforementioned states combined have a total  population of 4.6 million spread out over 476,245 square miles. Compare that just New York City alone, which has nearly double the population with 8.2 million people crammed into only 468 square miles. The total electoral votes from those red states is 16, whereas New York State has 29 votes.
Breakdown: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota have 16 votes for 4.6 million people, and New York State has 20 votes for 19.4 million people. It takes 287,500 people in the aforementioned red states to get one electoral vote, whereas in New York State it takes 668, 965 people to get one electoral vote — that’s more than double the amount of New Yorkers needed for a single vote in the Electoral College.
In 2000, Democrats clamored that the Electoral College should be dismantled when President George W. Bush won reelection with 271 electoral votes to Vice President Al Gore’s 266, though Gore received 543,895 more actual votes than Bush. And even though Obama won the popular vote for his reelection by 3,202, 936 (and an electoral trouncing of 126 more votes), the Republicans still think we should do way with the Electoral College.
The theory is that more people would vote if they knew their vote “counted,” but either way you look at it, those odds remain in the favor of the Democrats if the country switched to counting only the popular votes.

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