Purple & Still Purple


I created Purple in 2008, and Still Purple in 2012.

usa map
Purple, 2008
Still Purple, 2012

The intent was to create a map that literally showed how, as Obama said, and in contrast to how they are commonly presented on the news and social media, there are no red states and no blue states.  There are only purple states.

In 2008, I was in an optimistic mood about our political future, and wanted to show the fundamentally mixed and centrist (as opposed to divided and extreme) nature of Americans’ ideologies.  By 2012, there was a lot less political civility and cooperation than I had expected in 2008, but the 2012 election showed that there were still a fair amount of purple feelings out there in the country, so I updated the map. The states are clearly a bit more red, showing Romney’s slightly higher percentage of the vote than McCain had in 2008.  (If you click on the maps to see the full-size images, and then download them, and then flick back and forth between the two, the differences are easier to see.)

Basic Concept

The map was created to reflect the popular vote in each state. In 2008, Chris mixed blue and red to reflect each state’s ratio of Democratic and Republican votes, respectively. More Democrats? The state is more of a bluish purple. More Republicans? The state is more of a reddish purple.  In 2012, I slightly changed the process, adding in green for any third-party votes (see below for a more detailed take on the process), but essentially, each state is colored a particular hue of purple to reflect, in color, the math of the popular vote’s breakdown.

Detailed Process, 2008

The map shows the 2008 presidential election results in percentages of the color purple. For example, if a state voted 60% for Obama and 40% for McCain, it is colored in with a purple that is made by mixing 60% blue and 40% red. If a state voted 40% for Obama and 60% for McCain, it is colored in with a purple that is 60% red and 40% blue. The point being, again, that even the bluest and reddest states here are still variants on purple.

The election percentages I used are those from NPR. I mixed the colors using RGB color mode: pure purple was defined as having a Red content of 128, a Green content of 0, and a Blue content of 128. An electoral advantage for the Democrats would move the Blue content up and the Red content down by the appropriate percentage, and an electoral advantage for the Republicans would move the Red content up and the Blue content down. So a theoretical 100% vote for the Democrats would move the scale all the way up to 255 Blue, 0 Green, and 0 Red, and a 100% vote for the Republicans would move it to 0 Blue, 0 Green, and 255 Red. “Pure” purple (128/0/128) can be seen in the state of Missouri, which had equal percentages for both parties when you round off to the nearest integer.

Detailed Process, 2012

In 2012, I decided to alter this approach slightly, adding a third color for all the independent votes in each state, to make it an even better reflection of the range of voter ideologies. Since the map was made in RGB color space, I used the color green to represent all independent votes. It should be noted that the green color does NOT stand for the Green political party in particular. The color green stands for ALL independent votes, whether they are for the Green party, the Libertarian party, or anyone else. I could have broken down the independent vote by party, of course, but it would not have made for very uniform results, since in many states only one independent party had results over 1% of the total, and in many cases the votes were affiliated with a localized independent party that existed in only one state. This would have necessitated too many new colors to fit in a standard computer color model. Also, even when aggregated into a single group as it is here, the green color is honestly almost totally impossible to pick up on visually, so watering it down further would have diluted its visual impact even more.

Here’s how it worked, using New Hampshire as a random example. The vote in New Hampshire was 46.4% Republican, 52.2% Democratic, and 1.4% independent. (I used the results on Politico for my numbers.) Every color in an RGB color space is created by mixing Red, Green, and Blue in a particular ratio. Each of these three component colors is numbered from 1 to 255, with 1 signifying a lack of that color, and 255 signifying full saturation for that color. The final color is a ratio of the numbers of the individual colors that create it.

To get New Hampshire’s color, Chris multiplied the voter percentages by 255, which gave him a percentage of the full saturation of each color. 46.4% of 255 is 118 (all numbers must be whole numbers), 52.2% of 255 is 133, and 1.4% of 255 is 4. Therefore, New Hampshire’s color is made by mixing red at 118, blue at 133, and green at 4, with the result being a particular shade of purple.

In 2008, Missouri had a perfect 128/128 balance of blue and red. In 2012, no state was quite so perfectly so balanced. The 2012 state with the closest vote was Florida, with a color ratio of 125 red/128 blue/2 green, followed by Ohio, with a ratio of 123 red/128 blue/4 green, and North Carolina, with a ratio of 129 red/123 blue/3 green.

The areas with the highest amount of blue are Washington DC (with a blue of 233), Hawaii (180), and Vermont (171). The states with the highest amount of red are Utah (with a red of 186), Wyoming (177), and Oklahoma (170). The states with the highest amount of green are New Mexico (with a green of 10), Alaska (9), and Maine (8).

I have not updated the map for 2018, but plan to do so eventually.



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