Thursday, November 6, 2008

Visualizing the election results: now and then

After an busy week, in school and in politics, I return with some interesting figures of the breakdown of Tuesday's voting. The New York Times has an interactive electoral map that compares voting patterns this year with the previous four presidential elections. As you might expect, compared to 2004, the country swung heavily Democratic, even within states McCain won.

In this picture, blue areas represent counties that voted more Democratic than in 2004, whereas red areas are counties that went more Republican. You see a lot of blue, indicating a general increase in Democratic voting percentages across the country, except for parts of some southern states. Notably, you see a lot of blue in the Rocky Mountains, along the southern border, and among the northern plains states.

One might draw the conclusion from this map that the country has renounced conservatism and embraced liberal Democrats once more, underscoring Obama's mandate to change the country. Well, for some perspective, consider this year's election in comparison to 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush.

The 1996 map is similar.

Our heavily Democratic 2008 voting bloc was considerably more Republican than it was sixteen years ago. What do we glean from comparing these maps? The country remains much more conservative even now than it was in the 1990's. The Democratic shift is relative, and reflects just how strong Christian conservative turn out was in '00 and '04. With practical issues like the economy on voters minds, they worried less about abortion, but the gap in social issues remains sharp (sadly evidenced by the passage of gay marriage bans in several states).

Eight years of the Bush administration may have soured voters on George W. Bush, but it certainly didn't eliminate Republican support. What does this mean for Obama's presidency? Bipartisanship is key. Given that Democrats now control the executive and legislative branches, it will be interesting to see how they will get things done without alienating 46% of the country.

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