Publication Details

Visualizing Virginia's Changing Electorate: Mapping Presidential Elections from 2000 to 2012


Stephen Hanna | Stephen J. Farnsworth

Date Published:

May 2, 2013 - 8pm

Publication Type:


Publication Series:

The Virginia News Letter

Conventional U.S. political maps, with their all-red and all-blue states and districts, don’t offer an accurate picture of fast-changing electoral trends, according to a long-time political analyst and a geographer who specializes in creative map-making, both professors at the University of Mary Washington.

Conventional electoral maps used by news media show states and counties by their geographic size, not their population, and thus give a misleading account of voting patterns, say the authors. An innovative map called a cartogram, which sizes regions according to population, may appear startling at first but gives a more accurate political picture, they write.

In the article, the authors present a variety of display methods, including cartograms, trend mapping, precinct maps, and maps at multiple scales to visualize changes in the Virginia electorate between 2000 and 2012. The conventional, geography-based maps showing districts won by Republicans or Democrats doesn’t begin to capture the real political landscape, especially in the fast-evolving suburbs, they write.

Rapidly suburbanizing counties in Virginia and elsewhere are the new political battlegrounds, according to the authors. Precinct-level maps in these counties reveal the real geography of voting preferences and make it easier to match demographic and socioeconomic characteristics with electoral results.