November 07, 2009

Where in the world is Barack Obama? (and John McCain, too!)

To follow up on our previous map showing the difference in the number of mentions between Barack Obama and John McCain in user-generated Google Maps content prior to the 2008 US Presidential Election, we figured an alternative visualization might be beneficial. The following maps represent the absolute number of mentions of Obama and McCain, respectively, in user-generated placemarks, a disaggregation of the map in our previous post.
This map, much like the previous iteration, shows the vast concentration of user-generated placemarks mentioning Obama in the nation's urban centers. The nation's largest cities - New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago - all appear prominently in this map. Although many of the notable points in both the Obama and McCain maps can be attributed to the large populations (and thus, presumably, a greater level of connectedness), a number of other explanations remain necessary. Despite being the 3rd largest city in the United States, Chicago is also the home of Barack Obama, and it houses the highest concentration of placemarks that mention his name. Significant events also seem assert their presence spatially, as Denver, Colorado, the site of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, is another relatively well-represented area, along with Portland, Oregon, where 70000+ rallied for Obama in May 2008.
Mirroring the already established pattern of urban primacy, much of McCain's presence is concentrated in the nation's urban centers, again including both New York City and the Washington, DC metro area (where McCain has the highest concentration). Unlike Obama, the places McCain is best represented in Google Maps were not necessarily the places he fared the best during either the primary or general election. For example, both Iowa and Michigan, in which McCain receives a nearly uniform number of mentions across the state, voted against him in both the primary and general elections.

Despite some of these patterns of user-generated content merely confirming the primacy of urban areas in virtual representations of the material world, others depart significantly from the predicted spatial clustering. Some areas that voted for McCain feature more prominently in the user-generated representations for Barack Obama, and vice versa, with the number of mentions for Barack Obama being more than double the number of mentions for John McCain. Although not all of the patterns displayed can be easily attributed to a particular causal factor, they only further complicate the relational geographies of the virtual and material world.

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