Are you a red witch or a blue witch – shades of purple relief from owellian red and blue

Election night i watched the big red stain spread across the map. This can’t be real, I thought. Such large chunks of the country, huge swaths full of people that believe what Bush is selling? Can the country really be so strongly divided along geographic lines?

Something didn’t ring true. There are plenty of ‘Support our Troops’ ribbons riding around on bumpers here in Vermont, a ‘Blue’ state. In Vermont we went for a democratic president, a republican governor and lieutenant governor, while sending a mix of democrats and progressives to the state legislature

Now, this week, we hear over and over about the ‘Mandate’. But, the vote was close, real close. Where are these areas that are providing Bush with the mandate? Not here. Thinking about how chunking up the vote by state, some of which cover large amounts of territory with no people (even compared to Vermont), I went looking for a finer grained analysis.

Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan provide a easy to follow cartographic analysis. Starting with maps scaled to show populaton, rather than area, moving to the county level, and finally using shades of purple to indicating percentage voting for either party, rather than winner take-all.

The picture that emerges is very different

The largely empty plains states, an alarming area of red putting the voice of the conservative wheat farmers and ranchers behind Bush on the ‘Mandate Map’ pinches up to a thin red streak, banded with purple, a buffer zone between the two blue eyes of Chicago and San Francisco. The solid red south, the old confederacy, humps up purple against the blue center of Atlanta, a ring of red, florida a purple thumb, the nail of Miami painted a bright blue.

Robert J. Vanderbei, at Princeton, has a similar set of maps, with ‘mountains’ to indicate the population centers (and a wonderful luminosity map, from the International Dark Sky Association, showing where most people live).

These maps are paint a much more realistic, less cartoonishly simplified picture of our country. One that matches our experience of everyday life among assorted circles of friends, acquaintances, those we know only vaugly, catch just a glimps in our daily rounds. One that matches a real world that is complex and mixed.

These maps paint a much less divisive picture of the country.

We currently have an administration that thinks in devisive terms, an administration very out of touch with how this country thinks, what this country needs. We would do well not to let our thinking, our organizing be lured into using the simplistic, black and white (blue and red) thinking they employ.

The oversimplified maps in the mainstream media sucker us with bad analysis. A more thoughtful analysis yields maps showing us a picture that can’t be put in a soundbite, but is one that is complex and real, one that we can work with. Don’t let the “Mandate” hypnotize you.

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