September 26, 2011

Measuring Politicians' Popularity in Google Maps Placemarks

Mapping the relative popularity of different politicians is old hat to the Floatingsheep collective -- our map comparing references to Barack Obama and John McCain was one of the first maps ever featured on the site (and the first that Taylor made!). A much more aesthetically advanced version of that map has now published in the Atlas of the 2008 Elections, edited by fellow Kentucky geographer Stan Brunn and a bevy of others. To honor that publication, as well as to acknowledge the ballyhoo these days about the role of digital technologies in promoting social and political change across the globe, more analysis seems timely. We now broaden the geographic extent of our earlier map and present the following, showing the relative prevalence of references to the names of political leaders in eight major countries in Europe and North America.

Politicians' Placemark Popularity
As is par for the course around here, each color dot represents more references in that location to the name of that politician than to each of the other seven. In other words, a purple dot means that there are more references to Barack Obama than to Angela Merkel, David Cameron, etc. It should also be noted that the keywords used for this comparison are the full names of each politician, rather than simply a last name.

Politician's Popularity in Europe
When focusing on Europe, the map almost perfectly shows that references to the name of a political leader are likely to predominate in the country that politician represents. England is awash in the burnt orange color symbolizing David Cameron, Spain in brown for José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, France in the pink of Nicolas Sarkozy, the silver of Silvio Berlusconi covering Italy, the blue-green of Angela Merkel filling the borders of Germany, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's yellow in Turkey and the green of Dmitry Medvedev scattered across Russia, however concentrated in the west. In this sense, the map conveys a relatively simple point that we've been spending quite some time trying to reiterate: the internet, and thus the data within it, is not somehow disconnected from geography. Instead, the two are very much intertwined, with digital representations of place being very much tied to the characteristics of that place, including its politics.

Where this map gets interesting, however, is when one looks away from Europe, especially returning to the United States (see the first map above). One may expect a veritable blanket of purple, symbolizing Obama, to cover the country in much the same way as the references to other political leaders did in their home countries. It is instead a potpourri of colors, with each of the other politicians dominating in one place or another. Whether this has to do with Obama's declining popularity or something else, we are unsure.

Given that all of the other countries included in this map, with the exception of Russia, are relatively small in terms of area, there may be a negative correlation between the areal extent of the country and the likelihood of complete homogeneity in Google Maps references. It is surprising, however, how much this deviates from Obama's dominance when compared to John McCain in 2008, as reflected in our Presidential Placemark Poll map. Maybe this is just evidence of an evil Obama plot to sell off America's virtual territory to socialist (and not-so-socialist) Europeans?

As always, our speculation usually leads us to a dead end, to which we have now arrived. Let the digital jockeying for territorial dominance commence!

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