Saturday, January 27, 2007

When colors talk: how newspaper graphics color meaning

This is a cross post from something I originally wrote for

The concept of the Red State and the Blue State remains one of the enduring legacies of the 2000 election. The major networks colored their maps to tell viewers how each state voted, since the country faced a growing divisiveness in its politics.

States that voted for Republican George Bush were turned red, while those pulling for Democrat Al Gore turned blue. And so the legend began, culminating in such use of the colors on political blogs like the conservative Red State and liberal Blue Mass Group.

So I was a little annoyed when I clicked over to the map the Newton Tab had created to demonstrate how different wards in the city voted in the election on Newton North*. Those few wards that voted "no" turned red, the others turned blue. The implication was clear: vote against the school and you're conservative. In a city that traditionally tilts as liberally as Newton it struck me as a little odd.

Tab Editor Greg Reibman tells me the map offered some valuable information, since it is interesting to see how the city voted as you moved around, with the south side mostly voting against the site plan. He also said that someone suggested turning the "no" tiling wards blue and the "yes" wards orange, the colors of the lawn signs.

Not a bad suggestion.

But my bigger problem is in coloring the wards in any full color. The fact is, was a "one person, one vote" kind of election. Unlike the Presidential race we didn't elect representatives to then do our voting for us. Not all the delegates from ward 3 would be voting "yes." But if we wanted to study how the geography affected the vote perhaps gradual shading would have been more telling.

In fact, after the 2004 election I started seeing national maps that to the red/blue data to new heights, showing how the country was more purple. Massachusetts leaned more to a bluish purple, while many southern states looked more reddish, but the point was pretty clear.

The point of the Tab's map was not.

*On January 23rd the city voted on whether to accept a site plan for the new high school. The vote took place because a group of citizens received enough signatures to force a vote on a plan originally approved by the city's Board of Aldermen. The city approved the site plan 8531 to 6038

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ignoring the very valid meat of your argument to post on something that has annoyed me for quite a while.

Why are Republicans (or any party) red?

Historically in this country, Red has been the OpFor, the Russians, the Chinese, the Cubans, the Germans, etc.,

Neither party is the OpFor. Both parties have legitimate positions and valid points and they shouldn't be portayed as the enemy.

I mean making the Green party Green I get. And I understand, red, white and blue, but still.

Color equality!