Coloring the 2012 Electoral Map by County, Population Density, and Partisan Split

The standard map of the United States electorate colors every state by which party its electoral votes for President went to. Since there are a number of states with low population density that vote consistently Republican, electoral maps year after year seem to fill in a bigger proportion of the map in Republican red than would reflect the actual right wing lean of the overall country. County maps of the country’s voters make the nation look even redder. So, there a number of illuminating solutions that map makers try. Some expand or shrink state sizes to reflect their population density. Others introduce shades from blue through purple to red to reflect the relative degree of Republican lean, Democrat lean or lack of lean in each place.

Chris Howard’s map below, takes the most fascinating and seemingly accurate approach I have seen yet, applying colors based on both population density and partisan lean:

Get the full size map on Howard’s Facebook page. There he also explains how he made it and what it how to read it:

America really looks like this – I was looking at the amazing 2012 election maps created by Mark Newman (Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan,, and although there is a very interesting blended voting map (Most of the country is some shade of purple, a varied blend of Democrat blue and Republican red) what I really wanted was this blended map with a population density overlay. Because what really stands out is how red the nation seems to be when you do not take the voting population into account; when you do so many of those vast red mid-west blocks fade into pale pink and lavender (very low population).

So I created a new map using Mark’s blended voting map based on the actual numbers of votes for each party overlaid with population maps from Texas Tech University and other sources.

Here’s the result—what the American political voting distribution really looks like.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://- GD

    Why… are metropolitan areas invariable more blue than rural areas? In fact, it appears almost universally true that rural areas are red and metropolitan areas are blue.

    • Matti

      I’m guessing the “Kenyan socialist muslim communist atheist” meme is an easier sell to Jim-Bob and Cletus than to people who meet other people from all walks of life every day.

    • Libby Anne

      Cities lean liberal while the countryside leans conservative. It’s always been like that, even if you go back to the middle ages (and adjust what you mean by “liberal” and “conservative” to fit that period, of course).

    • Daniel Fincke

      The hypothesis I have always heard is that cities inevitably involve greater contact with diversities of people and densities of other people, both of which encourage engagement with a wider range of ideas and a generally more pro-social view of politics. People who are more regionally isolated are more tempted towards provincialism, fear of the other, comfortability with the idea that they (or their small town) are on their own, separated from others, etc.

      I’m sure there are innumerable other factors though, including wealth, access to technology and information, etc.

    • Laurent Weppe

      I’m guessing the “Kenyan socialist muslim communist atheist” meme is an easier sell to Jim-Bob and Cletus than to people who meet other people from all walks of life every day.

      Oh please: the “peasant rubes vote for conservative cause their stupids and ignorants” meme needs to die, then burn, then die again just to make sure.

      First things first: zoom at the map: do you see these redish aureolas around the deeply blue cities of Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotten Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, und so weiter…? That’s suburbia land: a place which is not rural at all, and where a lot of conservative voters live.

      Among the causes of the distribution of the population in the US are the concentration of poverty in the center of big cities and the tendency for conservative voters to deliberately leave the core cities for homogenuous suburbian neighbourhoods.

      As for the pale red shade of the real rural areas, the reason is pork: left wing politcians dedicate most of their effort to densely populated areas, leaving the rural population available for conservatives politicians willing to indulge in a little clientelism.

    • mywall

      “Oh please: the “peasant rubes vote for conservative cause their stupids and ignorants” meme needs to die, then burn, then die again just to make sure.”

      That meme is just an application of the old saying about ignorance and malice. It’s probably not going to go anywhere soon.

    • Kacy

      I don’t think it’s as simple as encountering greater diversity in cities. Speaking as one whose roots are in rural Texas and coming from Scots-Irish stock, there is a long history of government policies that have hurt those people commonly called “rednecks,” –from mishandling of Reconstruction (Yes, there is still some Southern bitterness over this.) to farming laws favoring mega-farms. For a detailed account of this, I highly recommend the writings of Joe Bageant, specifically “Rainbow Pie” and “Deer Hunting With Jesus.” His roots are in rural Virginia, and he eventually became a Socialist and an ex-pat, spending his last years in Mexico.

      To summarize Bageant’s work, the Scots-Irish people were first exploited by the English to fight in the wars against the Catholics. Many were scattered to the US, where they put down roots and were later recruited to fight in wars for the American empire. Through their experiences they learned to value rugged individualism, self-suffiency, and a suspicion for “book learnin’ ” and those in power.

      Finding themselves in a world that was hostile to their way of life, which centered around farming, their response was to work harder and double their efforts because, in keeping with their Protestant heritage (think Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic), they really believed that those who have “made it” have done so through their efforts. Those few among their ranks who manage to succeed only reinforce this narrative. This, of course, makes them susceptible to the FOX News rhetoric regarding the hard work of the wealthy.

      It’s also why I find it overly simplistic to talk about rural people as simpletons who are prejudiced against outsiders. Those in rural America really believe the hard-work narrative, which causes them to be self deprecating about their own poverty which they view as their own fault. It’s also why they are suspicious of those who receive welfare and government aid, despite the fact that many of them are recipients of this aid.

      While I understand why rural Americans have this mindset, I ultimately disagree with their conclusions, as did Joe Bagnaet, whose work is difficult to summarize in a comment box.

    • Matti

      To believe that Obama is a communist/atheist/socialist/muslim/kenyan or some combination of them (worse yet, a contradictory combination like atheist muslim) requires a good dose of ignorance, stupidity or a heady mix of each. The plain fact is that a plurality, if not majority of Republican voters were completely sold on these ideas. Now, we can debate correlation vs causation and the direction of the causal arrow but I’m not particularly interested in rebutting the line of reasoning that goes “well they may believe stupid things but it’s not actually because they’re stupid but because socioeconomic reasons X, Y and Z”.

    • Thomas R

      It’s not exactly invariable, although it’s close to it I suppose. The cities in Oklahoma go fairly Republican. A Democratic Presidential candidate hasn’t won Tulsa county since like FDR, although probably won the city itself more recent than that. Virginia Beach, Virginia tends to be won by Republican counties. Outside the South or Southwest Boise goes fairly Republican.

      A possibility is cities get a fair amount of young unmarried people moving in and trying things out. People who want excitement and change are likely not going to be drawn to conservatism, which is about tradition and prudence. While the rugged libertarianism might not work as well in places where mutual interdependence, even when unacknowledged, maybe can’t be totally ignored.

      Or not.

  • Brad

    Probably too complicated for TV. Which is a travesty.

  • Erp

    There is some urban red in Utah (Salt Lake City) and rural blue in some places in the southwest (my guess areas with mostly Latino or Native American populations). There’s an interesting girdle of blue through the Bible belt also.

    • ACN

      Note the South Texas Valley.

      Borders mexico. Very blue. I wonder what the demographics look like :)

      Most of my extended family lives there, there is a large hispanic/latino population, so people are more likely to have friends/neighbors/family who are affected by immigration policy and the poverty and difficult living conditions that typically drive immigration. They typically have very little patience for the GOP platform here.

      Most of my extended family is very religious which one might think skews them toward the GOP, but to paraphrase a family member:
      “I’ve lived in Mexico, I’ve met and am friends with more people from Mexico than I have from the US. Knowing what I know about the poverty and squalor that exists in many parts of Mexico, how can you tell me, as a human being, that I should not let those people leave those conditions and come to a place where they want to work, where they can get better pay, and live a better life.”

    • Elemenope
  • smrnda

    I’d also like to dispense with the ‘idiot rubes vote conservative’ – even if it’s occasionally true, stereotyping people like that isn’t going to encourage them to contemplate different political perspectives.

    I’m skeptical that the existence of poverty in big cities causes them to go blue – rural poverty is just as bad if not worse so I don’t think poverty alone is the cause. The other thing is large cities contain a great deal of the very educated and very wealthy, and just because somebody has $ doesn’t mean they vote Republican since their stance on social issues tends drive lots of people away.

    The only thing I can think of for the hold on rural areas is religion, and the ability to denounce various “others” and point to the notion that the democrats are the party of “others.” Not sure what could be done on that, other than to make rural voters think of themselves as proletarian workers first and Christians second.

    • Laurent Weppe

      I’m skeptical that the existence of poverty in big cities causes them to go blue

      It’s not poverty alone: it’s poverty + promiscuity which creates left-wing bastions. having only a limited space to share with neigbours makes social cohesion much more vital and at the same time much more dependant on reliable (and therefore often institutional) mecanisms of solidarity regardless of your personal wealth.

    • smrnda

      Could you please explain what you mean by ‘promiscuity?’ If you’re referring to sexual practices, do you actually think that people in rural areas are living by their religious ideals when it comes to saving sex for marriage and being monogamous later? You haven’t been checking teen pregnancy stats if you think that.

    • Laurent Weppe

      Oh yeah, I tend to forget that promiscuity is virtually always used in its sexual sense in english.

      Well, the french word it comes from means «a great number of people living in a small territory», and in social science, it often add the notion that they come from different social and cultural backgrounds: that’s the meaning I was thinking of when I used the term.

    • Kristen inDallas

      Occam’s razor makes me want to bet that it’s got a lot to do with the fact that democrats tend to earmark a lot more for the bigger cities right off and budget out the remainder to states. People in rural areas are better served by (in the sense that they get more money) the republican notion of state or local distribution of funds. I’m sure there are a lot of people who vote on more complex social issues than that, but when looking at whole counties of people as a solid movement, I don’t doubt naked self-interest has something to do with it (in rural areas and big cities)

  • kalimsaki

    Here is good news for you!

    Death is not destruction, or nothingness, or annihilation; it is not cessation or extinction; it is not eternal separation, or non- existence, or a chance event; it is not authorless obliteration. Rather, it is to be discharged by the Author who is All-Wise and All-Compassionate; it is a change of abode. It is to be despatched to eternal bliss, to your true home. It is the door of union to the Intermediate Realm, which is where you will meet with ninety-nine per cent of your friends.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

  • Kacy

    There are also rural counties that went blue. Those two Southeast Texas counties (not Houston) that are blue, are also rural. They are blue due to union influences. I mentioned that the rural red phenomena has a lot to do with individualistic values, but this doesn’t work as much where there is a strong union presence. Unions raise communal consciousness and class consciousness, both of which were important in the 2012 election when it came to economic issues.

    I also think the Mexican-American blue vote has just as much to do with a cultural suspicion of the wealthy as it does immigration laws. This deep suspicion of rich people (*cough* Mitt Romney *cough*) takes precedent over culture war issues for Mexican Catholics.

    • Thomas R

      Vermont and Iowa also have many rural Democratic voters. Some of whom are even quite liberal.

  • Ronnie

    The real lesson, which has been clear for all to see at least since 2000, is that it’s rural America vs. metro America/Indian reservations. Unfortunately the major population centers are more populous than rural America and as a result the values and morality of rural America are being superceded by the more radical population centers.