Friday, May 27, 2011

Two maps, one election

Something a little different this morning. I was contacted this week by Sean, the blogger over at the Arbitrary Gopher and a scientist specializing in Human Genetics from Quebec. He put together a very interesting cartogram for the 2011 federal election. It was so interesting that I asked if he would write a guest post for ThreeHundredEight.
As a scientist I spend most of my time generating, looking at and graphing data. 

An election is also data. Campaign contributions, vote counts and seat distribution are all data. So how do we graph them? Well, most of the time election results are projected onto a map. A map is indeed a way of communicating data; data regarding distances and areas. Maps are not a very good graph for election results, however, particularly in Canada. 
A graph of an election result should tell us who wins the most seats. So, why do we graph these results on a map? A better graph would be to use a cartogram, which is a map that is transformed to show something other than geography. This cartogram includes all of Canada's current electoral boundaries, but then each riding is scaled according to the size of its population (based on the 2006 census). While it might look strange at first, most of us should be able to find our homes in it pretty quickly.
I think the main difference that this cartogram brings to the table here is in terms of the Liberals and the Greens. While in the first map we see the twin seas of Conservative Blue and NDP Orange, we don't see that the Liberal Party does in fact still exist in the highly populated urban areas of Canada, and we also don't see that the Greens now have a toe-hold out west. Moreover, it's easy to forget looking at the map just how vote and seat rich both southern Ontario and Quebec truly are. Finally, if you know some basic Canadian geography, it's pretty easy to see the results in all of the major Canadian cities. At a glance we can see who won this election, where they won it and by about how much. Fun graph right?

I will be graphing several of the amazing and publicly available national datasets as well as helping to make sense of provincial and even municipal elections in the near future. You can follow new results over here at
Thanks, Sean! As he says, the Liberal Party in the original map is virtually non-existent. You don't see that they won a good deal of their seats in the Toronto and Montreal regions, but in the cartogram you do in fact see the Liberal seats in Montreal and Toronto. And out West, you can see the NDP and Liberal toeholds in Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg that you can't really make out on the original map.

Another point worth making is just how distorted the map looks. A similar cartogram for the United States (see here), while also distorted, is at least recognizeable. With Canada's population so concentrated in the thin band close to the American border, we get the cartogram resembling a drop of water. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver take up a huge proportion of the cartogram, whereas on the geographic map they are tiny. It's a fascinating way to look at the country.