Monday, May 20, 2019

The Problem with Australia's Election Maps

The 2019 Australian Election has been a bit of a disappointment for those interested in election maps. Generally the maps visualizing this year's election have been unimaginative and on the whole deceptively misleading.

There is a glaring problem with mapping Australia's election results, which comes from the huge variations in size between different electoral divisions. For example, Durack, in the north-west of the country is 1,629,858 square kilometers in size and bigger than many countries in the world. While, at the other end of the scale, the electoral district of Grayndler is just 32 square kilometers in size.

Here lies the major problem. Both Durack and Grayndler have one member in the House of Representatives. Yet Durack appears nearly 51,000 times larger on the map than Grayndler. Durack was won by the Liberal Party in the 2019 election. Grayndler voted for the Labor Party. On all the election maps I've seen of the Australian election the blue colored Durack has a huge visual impact, while the red of Grayndler is almost impossible to see - despite both electoral divisions having the same number of members in the House of Representatives. This is a visualization nightmare.

I challenge you to find Grayndler on The Age's How America Voted interactive map (the same map also appears in the Sydney Morning Herald). Grayndler is so small that it is almost impossible to find on the map. One purpose of using a map to present election results is that people can quickly find different electoral divisions to view the local results. If you need to use the search facility to find Granyndler then I would argue that the map is lacking as a search tool and that the data would be better presented in a table or chart.

There might have been some purpose to The Age's election map if it provided some kind of visual guide to the results. However reading the map based purely on the proportion of the different colors suggests that the Liberal Party won around 75% of the votes and the Labor Party won around 20%. In fact the Labor Party (so far) has won 65 seats and the Liberal Party has won 42.

This problem of visualizing election votes is not unique to Australia. Many countries around the world, including the USA and the UK, have similar patterns of voting - where right-wing parties often win the large (in geographical size) seats while the left-wing parties win the smaller urban and suburban seats. The problem is just exasperated in Australia because of the really huge differences between the largest and smallest electoral divisions.

Any election map of Australia, which sticks to any kind of geographical accuracy, is going to visually under-represent the Labor vote while over-representing the Liberal vote. The Guardian's Australian Election 2019 interactive map manages to cope with this problem better than The Age's map. The Guardian's map still gives far too much visual weight to the Liberal Party but it has more clearly defined the boundaries of the electoral divisions. While the color blue still clearly dominates the map you can more clearly see on The Guardian map that the Labor party has won a lot of seats in urban areas.

Note: Despite being the largest individual political party in terms of the number of seats won the Labor Party have lost the election to the minority Coalition (consisting of the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia) who between them will win enough seats to form a government.

1 comment:

massic80 said...

You got a wrong anchor text: how Australia voted, not America ;)