Friday, November 02, 2012

Pantone Cage Fight

Speaking of ink, let's talk color for a minute.

So everyone is geared up for the big Red State - Blue State matchup this coming Tuesday.   I guess you need to be a bit older to realize just how screwey that color scheme is.  If you go back in time it was almost always that Republicans were most commonly represented in blue and, if anything, Democrats were red. Don't believe me.  Even today if you check out the map references that date back a few years you will see.  Take for example all the maps on David Leip's Political Atlas site. Do those maps look backwards to you?  Or are all the maps since 2000 backwards?  Or the more ominous classification that red is always hostile. I guess that matches what half the US thinks these days, but still.

Red - Blue or Blue - Red.  It all changed in an instant with the seminal map USAToday data editor Paul Overberg put together with the results of the 2000 presidential election. It may not have seemed seminal, but it was a striking map because it was binary (just red or blue, winner take all) and at the county level.  It was arguably misleading (see paper references at bottom for more on that) given the variation in population density across the nation.. a variation that has a much bigger impact when graphed at the county level, vs. the the normally presented state level. When it comes to maps having impacts though, not many top it to this day.

The question then becomes why did USAToday have Republicans as red that year.  If you just think it is because that has always been our political taxonomy it isn't true.  Before 2000 it was not always, or even typically true that Republicans were red.  Read the Washington Post from 2004: Elephants Are Red, Donkeys Are Blue

There is a real story here.. and it all gets to how media has changed.   It turns out that because the color  was so important, it could potentially influence the outcome. The best explanation out there is that prior to 2000, the major media networks stuck to a scheme whereby the incument party alternated between red and blue in their graphics with each election cycle. Think about that. Since color mattered someone must have decided it was not fair to always have one party blue and the other red.  It wasn't even fair to always have the incumbent party the same color.  If that is the full answer, it means that there was a much higher level attention paid to being keeping the presentation objective.  It also means that in 2000 it was just the turn of the cycle that Republicans came up red, nothing more.  But the punditocracy didn't seem to get the memo on the itinerant nature of the color system and cemented in place the taxonomy of color that has now skipped into the cultural awareness of all things political. 

If all that leaves you wanting more.. or think that is all too superficial... here is a Princeton working paper for you: On Graphical Representations of Voting Results

8 Comments:

Anonymous MH said...

This is really more to your older posts on shifting registration, but have you seen this? The reasoning is explained in its glorious detail here. I wonder if the Trib isn't looking at voter registration that way (i.e. incompletely) for similar reasons. Anyway, I remain fascinated by this strategy whereby you can weight the sample by the outcome under study.

Friday, November 02, 2012 9:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - I went to that unskewed polls page; reinforces my belief that no one on the right wing has any webpage building skills. I'll leave the statistical analysis to the host of this blog, but I fear it may be as bad as the presentation of the website.

Friday, November 02, 2012 2:10:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

All egged on serendipitously by the classist slur, "Redneck."

Speaking of unskewed polls, this is terrific nerd bait http://baseballcrank.com/archives2/2012/10/post.php

Friday, November 02, 2012 3:17:00 PM  
Blogger Sextant said...

Let's go back a little further in history. Can you imagine Senator Joe McCarthy or Richard Nixon being supported by Red States?

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