How divided are we?
There have not been many elections I was happier to see end than the one we just had. I was sick to death of all the advertisements well before it got here. I limited myself to 1 Facebook visit per day in order to avoid the ranting and raving that filling my news feed. After it was all over, I was curious to take a look at Twitter and Facebook to see the meltdown. I was not really prepared for what I saw.
I did see Obama supporters expressing happiness that he’d won, but I did not encounter any malicious bragging or boasting. I think everyone understands that the country is going through a pretty rough time right now, and the time for real celebration will be when we have clearly started to climb out of this hole. Now, I’m not saying that Obama supporters were not being a-holes on Facebook and elsewhere…I am sure they were…I just didn’t see it. What I saw from some of the Romney supporters, however, was pretty shocking and scary.
I don’t want to paint the reaction with broad strokes. I definitely saw posts expressing a normal amount of disappointment at the results, which was to be expected. I am not happy when the candidate I support loses. It is OK to feel disappointed. It is normal. But, there were also the reactions that were NOT so normal. I saw people complaining that we’d just “elected a Muslim” and a terrorist…I saw people talking about arming themselves for what was coming next…I saw people mentioning thoughts of suicide over the outcome…and I saw no shortage of folks saying that we need to pray for this country because Obama won. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought that Stalin had risen from the grave and been elected President.
As I said, I can absolutely understand being disappointed at the outcome. It stinks when your candidate loses, and there is a period of feeling bummed out and blue about it…but…you get disappointed, and then you move on and hope for the best. We’ve all been there. So why were so many folks as worked up as they were about this outcome? I mean, I didn’t see many Democrats ready to jump off a building when Rand Paul got elected…and he is an idiot. So what was it? Was it about coal? Was it about guns? Was it racial? Was it just a knee-jerk reaction? I figure it was probably a little of all those things, and more.
I think part of the reason for the extreme reactions stems from the fact that the current Republican strategy seems to be focused on scaring the sh*t out of everybody instead of giving any real solutions to the problems we face. The Democrats are going to take your guns…they are going to shut down the coal mines…they are going to allow gay marriages…they are going to kill old people…and Mexicans are going to take your jobs. They basically paint a picture that the apocalypse is coming if you don’t vote Republican. So, maybe it is only natural that when they don’t win, well…some folks think that’s it, the world as they know it is over. How is that a good strategy?
If you watched any of the news shows after the election, you saw outcome maps that appeared to show a clearly divided nation. Blocks of red…blocks of blue…but overall, the maps that were shown seemed to paint a much “redder” picture across the country. And even though Obama DID win the popular vote (sorry Mr. Trump) as well as the electoral vote, the appearance was that most regions of the country had gone Republican, but the major population centers went to the Democrats and thus swung the state and the election in Obama’s favor. If you were a Republican voter, that had to add a bit of salt to the wound. The maps appeared to show that most of the country voted like you did, but your candidate still lost. The maps painted a picture that seemed to say that most people in this country supported Romney. Below are a couple of examples of such maps:
So you can see how that might upset some Republican voters. Even though he did lose the popular vote, Republican voters could point to these maps and say that the election is being swayed by the large cities and are not representative of what the country as a whole really wants. Turns out, these maps are very misleading.
A researcher at the University of Michigan wanted to produce a more accurate representation of the voting results. He decided that instead of simply using red or blue, he would use shades of both to indicate voting percentages, not just show a county as red or blue. The results show the country in a much different way:
That is quite a bit different from the maps we saw and typically see. It shows a more “blended” nation. There are still strongholds of red and blue, but you see more shades of those colors, as well. This is a great map…a much more informative map…but to take it one step further, an engineer in New Hampshire named Chris Howard wanted to take the data represented in the above map but then add to it a layer reflecting population density.
So, in addition to having shades of red and purple, his map accounts for population density and displays lower population density areas as paler shades of colors, and high-density areas as darker shades. That way, a county that has say 100 people in it but is colored completely blue or red on a typical election results map is not given the same “oomph” as say a county with 100,000 folks. The result is truly something to see:
That looks like a very purple country. You still see dark colors in heavily populated areas, but overall, it has more pale pinks and lavenders. It is also interesting how there is a visible line dividing east and west as you approach the plains states. He has added a much larger version here.
Something I find particularly interesting about this map is thinking about how a county or a state doesn’t necessarily just shift from one color to another when it goes from favoring one party or another. It is likely a slow progression of “shades” moving across it. Take a look at Texas, for instance. At some point years ago, that whole map was likely tinted more towards red and pink. But now, you can see blue and lavender shades that are showing up near the Mexican border. It has to make you think about how those colors will likely inch their way north across the state until, conceivably, Texas could become as reliably “blue” as it now is “red”.
This map doesn’t mean we aren’t still a divided nation. A pink county and a lavender county are probably just as divided as a red one and a blue one. What it does show, though, is that one party or the other does not necessarily have a stranglehold on this country just yet. The tried and trusted areas for each party will likely continue to remain the color they are…for now. But for the rest of the country, it looks to me like both parties have a lot of work to do if they really want to start turning the map one shade or the other.