Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Addicted to Electoral Mapping


I've always loved cartography. I spent the better part of a month in the map room of the British library this summer, looking at Renaissance illuminated printed maps (Mercator thought there were camels in Siberia!), figuring out a way to work them into my last chapter, and my book in general. My book isn't about maps per se, but I wish it were. Literary landscapes have always appealed to me and I'm anxious to get back to working on space again after this book is finished.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that I am hooked on those interactive electoral maps connected to polling, the ones that help you predict who is going to win what race. The main reason playing with these electoral maps has become my latest addiction is because new polls come in every day and the numbers are different every time. My favorite map by far is Pollster's, which delivers the results of the most recent poll when you mouse over each state, and can also be changed to reflect the races for senate, house and governor across the country. Click on a state, and you get a line graph based on the state's poll history. It's fun to see the blue and red lines crossing back and forth. It is updated daily, sometimes hourly, so although its results are more up-to-date than the maps at the Times and the Washington Post, they also shift fairly frequently. If you like Pollster's state graphs, try fivethiryeight for more graphs and creative visualizations than you can imagine.

Of course as my mother and I discussed this evening, the actual physical space of the map matters not at all when translating polls into electoral votes. In other words, the geography of the map- it's very mappiness, if you will -is not the point of colored, clickable states. But I like the map just the same. I like being able to have the cursor meander from Virginia over to North Dakota, then down to Nevada. Pollster has N. Dakota leaning towards Obama, whereas the New York Times dubs it "Solid McCain Territory."

As of this moment, the Washington Post gave Obama a slight lead with 207 electoral votes predicted, the Times gave him 196, and Pollster has him at 272. When I check again tomorrow, the numbers will probably have changed for Pollster's map. It's scary and exciting and fun and totally, utterly addictive.

Yes, I know I'm a little nerdy about the map thing. But I do happen to have an excellent sense of direction- I once spent 6 hours cutting a crazy swath through the non-touristy parts of Venice and brought everyone back safe and well-fed. I have no sense of how this election is going to turn out. I'm lost. But as I mouse over the changing landscape of opinion, it feels for a moment like I do.

6 comments:

Emily said...

Oooo ... the maps are fun. The ones that they use on the news channels get a little weird though.

Okay, not so much the maps, but the people using the interactive maps.

Incidentally, did you see the bit they did on last Thursday's SNL Weekend Update?

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/update-freds-mapfix-it/784121/

Pamphilia said...

Yes, I loved that. I always wanted to go up there and play around with the interactive map. Plus they showed how silly the mappiness is anyway.

Take a look at N. Dakota's graph on Pollster.com- it's really funny how the red McCain line plunges so steeply after the economic meltdown.

marie Rutkoski said...

I rather like NPR's interactive electoral map...

Renaissance Girl said...

love the maps. look at them obsessively. but i'm getting a little too anxious about it right now: suddenly, they begin to feel fixed and final. i'd like there to be more of a spread....

-DW- said...

Just great -- now you've got me addicted, too. You are like a carrier of contagious disease!

Pamphilia said...

Thankfully, only one day left. Then what will we all do?