For the many (maps) not the few
You can associate many things with politics. Tiresome. Frustrating. Distrust. Divisive. Controversial.
But there are more positive things which always come around during election time – maps and cartograms (graphical representations of geographical realities). The turbulent nature of British politics has led to another general election on 12th December 2019, which on the one hand has been exhausting and depressing, regardless of political allegiances. However, on the other hand it does provide an opportunity to create some maps and explore political geography of the UK, which is a reflection of socioeconomic histories.
Every election, particularly with recent advances in web cartography and data visualizations – we see more engaging and innovative ways to express the political story taking place. We’ve seen some great maps at recent elections in Canada, and further back to United States Presidential elections.
So I set myself the task of producing some of my own, whilst trying NOT to talk about politics. Politics without the opinion, you could say (if there is such a thing). So I’ve had some fun playing around with some data visualizations with a couple of web maps and static maps, ahead of 2019 UK general election, which may be handy if you want to analyse the ‘key battlegrounds’ and patterns.
Get Mapping Done
I would argue cartograms should only be used in certain situations, as they are meant to simplify and distort real life geography to exaggerate thing proportionally towards a certain metric. However, elections offer such a situation. Using a process of hexagon tessellation and cartogram weighted by electorate size (population), I’ve developed a combined ‘hexagon cartogram’. If one uses a natural geography map, as in the example above, it seems to demonstrate that Conservative Party are dominant – where in reality, while they currently are the largest party, they are in a minority government. Conversely, some cartograms lose too much a sense of actual geography and too abstract. I’ve tried to balance between these two.
I’ve used the hexagon grid to also demonstrate the ‘vulnerability’ of constituencies by majority size in two ways. In the 2D dimensional maps, this is represented by border size of second placed party at last election or by-election; whereas in a 3D web map I’ve used height to represent strength of vote in a constituency. One must also acknowledge the influence of the 2016 EU referendum still in British politics and you can explore estimates of how constituencies voted on this issue historically – possibly an indicator how the 2019 election may go.
There are some clear patterns emerging from these maps – Labour have strongholds and ‘tall towers’ in old industrial heartlands and urban areas, particularly in Liverpool and north and east London, however are more ‘vulnerable’ in smaller cities, such as Crewe. They struggle to compete in more rural and affluent areas where Tories are dominant. Overlay maps of income and population density and they broadly correlate to this pattern. The political geography of Scotland is strongly held by SNP with competition from Labour and Tories, an area where Labour used to be dominant.
Wales, once a Labour stronghold, is still apparent in the ‘Valleys’, but Plaid Cymru hold influence in areas where Welsh language is more prevalent, and Tories hold more influence in ‘anglicised areas’ of rural Wales such as Pembrokeshire or Vale of Glamorgan. Northern Ireland has a unique political geography mainly focused around Sinn Fein and DUP, usually following traditional lines of Loyalists/Republicans, though some of these ‘Loyalist’ areas aren’t as guaranteed DUP as usual.
The DUP rhetoric of pro-Brexit in a part of the UK which voted to Remain, as well as the failure to hold Northern Irish Assembly for two years – means nothing is guaranteed. This is true of all parties. Traditional Labour heartlands who ‘never forgave Thatcher’, are areas which also voted for Brexit, and who knows what Labour’s policy on Brexit will do to this. Meanwhile, some Tory seats are at threat from Labour or Lib Dems and ‘tactical voting’, and those put off from Boris’s, let’s just say “unique and divisive” personality and (un)trustworthiness. It is all about the ‘swing seats’ which I have tried to highlight.
As we will find out on Friday morning, political geography is never fixed.