Journalistic Hyperbole and the Electoral Geography of Poland

Although The Economist magazine is to be commended for analyzing and mapping the role of Poland’s old imperial divisions in its current electoral geography, it succumbs to unnecessary and misleading simplification and exaggeration, as is so often the case when journalists take on intricate geographical issues. Consider, for example, the following assertion:

More remarkable, however, is that rather than following a gradual gradient from east to west, modern Poles’ political loyalties remain firm right up to the edge of a historical line that cuts down the middle of the country.

This vivid statement is incorrect, as is demonstrated by the maps included in the two previous GeoCurrents posts. A detail from one of these maps (below) drives the point home. As can be seen, there is only a vaguely discernable difference in “Poles’ political loyalties” as one cross the old boundary between the German and Russian empires between Łódź and Wroclaw. More significant is the fact that two of the five constituencies that gave the lowest percentage of their votes to United Right, Łódź and Warsaw, and two of the four that give the highest percentage to Civic Coalition (again, Łódź and Warsaw), are located to the east of the dividing line.

The Economist article in question also makes a more interesting observation:

From the air, the former Habsburg and Russian territories look like a patchwork mosaic of small farming plots, whereas the west is divided into sprawling fields designed to facilitate mechanised agriculture.

This assertion is certainly intriguing, but is it true? I tested it by trying to find the old border on satellite images found in Apple Maps. I did so with a modest level of success. Although I could not precisely trace out the divide, I did find a significant general difference in the divisions of agricultural land found in the two sectors. Consider, for example, an image (below) of the Kalisz area, located astride the old boundary. The fields on the left side of this image are larger than those on the right, although not to the extent that The Economist suggests. They are also more irregularly shaped.

If anything, the term “mosaic” fits more closely with the field patterns found in the old German sector, as the various pieces of a mosaic are typically of different size and shape. The two images posted below reveal a more mosaic-like agricultural pattern in the west, and a greater degree of field uniformity in the former Russian zone. What the second image shows is not a “mosaic” composed of disparate pieces, but a rather a patchwork composed of many elongated rectangular pieces of similar size. Such an arrangement reflects the pre-modern farming system that used long, narrow fields to facilitate plowing, as it was difficult to turn plow-teams of oxen or horses around. But although the redivision of the land that occurred in the west facilitated mechanization, it was not a necessary precondition for it.

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