Tuesday, October 21, 2008

red, blue, and purple

Are you a believer in Red States and Blue States?

It's an interesting question. These terms have cropped up over the last few elections to describe states whose electoral college votes go Republican (red) or Democratic (blue). Useful so far as it goes.

We do use the electoral college, and in general (with the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska) states choose the winner-take-all method. If your state votes 51% R and 49% D, then your electoral college will vote 100% R.

So, looking at the map for the 2004 elections, we see this:

This map is factual in electoral college terms, but has caused people to engage in bad thinking when it comes to talking about where America is, and who thinks what. First of all, it doesn't represent population. If you were to take population into account, then Nevada, with its wide expanses of empty land, would suddenly become much much smaller than nearby California, with its greater density of people.

Suddenly, Red America and Blue America look much more equal in size.

But that's still not the whole story. As I mentioned, the electoral college is a reality, but it's only an electoral reality. It's true that, for instance, the Spurs beat the Pistons fair and square a few years ago in the finals — they won more games — but the Pistons actually scored a few more points than the Spurs over the course of those games. So, you can't really say that the Pistons deserved to win, or that they played better basketball. They didn't: the Spurs won fair and square. But the one thing you can't say is that the Spurs scored more points. They didn't.

Same thing here. You can say, fairly, that more states voted Republican in 04. That's the way our system is set up. But you simply can't say, "tons more people just wanted the R candidate," or "this part of the country feels differently than that part of the country." You can talk about trends, but even then those trends are buried by this Red-State-Blue-State way of representing things.

Just as an example, here's that same proportional map broken down by county, not by state.

Interesting, no? Those little pockets of red in the blue areas and pockets of blue in the red areas. But even then there is a truth being masked — being stifled, severely — by these maps. Because we're still coloring an entire area all red or all blue based on who won fifty percent or more.

That's just not the reality of your county, though, is it? What if you represented what people thought, and how they voted, by coloring a county 20% red and 80% blue, or 73% red and 27% blue? Take a look at America.

Does that look like "Two Americas" to you? Like a country divided? Like a place divided between heartland hicks and coastal élites? How about this:

Of course you've still got streaks of reddish and spots of bluish, but even then there's not a single place in the whole country that's all one way or another. Those bright primary colors have given way to Purple America, our home, where friends bat ideas around at the water cooler, where families engage around the dinner table, where 65% of Americans call themselves "moderate" rather than "conservative" or "liberal." Sixty-five percent: that's more than have ever — ever — voted for any one candidate in America's history.

One nation, indeed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


And now I bring you 28 Attacks in 28 days. Comedy gold. My favorite is the pumpkin one.