How Well Can ChatGPT Analyze a Complex Map, Part 1?

This second-to-last post in the current series on ChatGPT examines the chatbot’s ability to find and explain patterns found on a relatively complex map. ChatGPT cannot (yet?) make maps, but can it intelligently analyze them? To test its abilities, I asked it to write an analytic essay on the geographical patterns found on a map of the 2020 U.S. presidential election with counties shaded by the margin of victory (a map of this sort is posted below). It managed to capture the basic contours reasonably well, focusing on regional divisions and the urban-rural split. But it missed many of the more subtle patterns and failed to notice any exceptions to the general rules that it had inferred. I therefore began to refine my queries, asking for more details about specific patterns. I have been told that this “narrowing in” strategy is needed to get the most out of ChatGBT. I was not impressed, however, with the results. If anything, the chatbot lost coherence when given additional information and more pointed requests.

Although I ran a number of these experiments, I will discuss the results of only two, one today and another in the next and final post in this series. The query that I used for today’s post specified that ChatGPT should pay attention to exceptions found for the general patterns that it had identified.

The chatbot’s response to this prompt is reproduced below, along with my comments on its errors and points of confusion. My comments are [IN BRACKETS AND IN ALL CAPS].

ChatGPT Response:

The 2020 United States presidential election was a historic event that brought about a complex tapestry of geographical patterns when analyzing the margin of victory across all U.S. counties. While certain general trends [I ASKED ABOUT PATTERNS, NOT TRENDS] emerged from the map, there were notable exceptions that provided a deeper understanding of the diverse political landscape in the country.

General Patterns:

When examining the map shaded by the margin of victory, several broad geographical patterns became evident:

    1. Coastal Strongholds for Democrats: Counties along the East and West Coasts, from Maine to Florida and Washington to California, predominantly voted for the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, with significant margins of victory [THIS IS ESSENTIALLY UNTRUE. WITH JUST A FEW EXCEPTIONS, BIDEN ENJOYED A “SIGNIFICANT MARGIN OF VICTORY” IN COASTAL COUNTIES ONLY IN CALIFORNIA. FROM SOUTHERN DELAWARE TO SOUTHERN FLORIDA, MORE COASTAL COUNTIES VOTED FOR TRUMP THAN BIDEN (SEE THE FIRST MAP BELOW). AND WHAT ABOUT THE GULF COAST? IS IT NOT “COASTAL”?]. This trend aligns with the historical tendency for urban and coastal areas to lean left. [ONLY IF ONE HAS A VERY SHALLOW DEFINITION OF “HISTORICAL.” AND WHY DOES THE TERM “URBAN’ APPEAR IN A SECTION FOCUSED ON THE COAST/INTERIOR DIVISION?]
    2. Inland Republican Strongholds: In contrast, many [MOST, ACTUALLY] inland counties in the Midwest and South showed robust support for the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump [THIS IS TRUE NOT JUST IN THE MIDWEST AND SOUTH]. These regions often featured rural or less densely populated areas, which have traditionally leaned conservative. [MANY INLAND, NON-METROPOLITAN COUNTIES IN THE SOUTH SUPPORTED BIDEN, OFTEN BY A WIDE MARGIN. ALL HAVE BLACK MAJORITIES. THE CHATBOT COMPLETELY MISSED THIS IMPORTANT EXPLANATORY FACTOR.]
    3. Urban-Rural Divide: The urban-rural divide was pronounced, with densely populated urban centers and their surrounding suburban counties favoring Biden. On the other hand, rural counties consistently supported Trump, reflecting deeper cultural and demographic divisions.

Notable Exceptions:

While these general patterns were dominant, there were several counties that stood out as exceptions, challenging the conventional wisdom [THIS IS NOT A MATTER OF “CONVENTIONAL VERSUS UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM,” BUT RATHER ONE OF “FINE-LEVEL VERSUS GROSS-LEVEL ANALYSIS”] of their respective regions:

    1. Urban Counties in Red States: In typically conservative states, such as Texas and Georgia, urban counties like Harris County (Houston) and Fulton County (Atlanta) experienced a significant shift toward the Democratic Party [HARRIS COUNTY, TX DID NOT SHOW A “SIGNIFICANT” BLUE SHIFT IN THIS ELECTION, AS CAN BE SEEN ON THE MAP POSTED BELOW].  These counties, characterized by their growing and diverse populations, flipped or came very close to flipping from Republican to Democratic [THERE WAS NO “FLIP” OR “NEAR-FLIP” INVOLVED! HARRIS COUNTY HAS BEEN HABITUALLY SUPPORTING DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FOR SOME TIME.]
    2. Rural Counties in Blue States: Conversely, some traditionally Democratic states like Minnesota and Oregon saw rural counties trending toward the Republican candidate [RURAL COUNTIES IN OREGON HAVE BEEN MOSTLY “RED” FOR SOME TIME. ALSO, MY QUERY DID NOT ASK FOR AN ANALYSIS OF ELECTORAL CHANGE]. For instance, in Minnesota, several northern and western counties that had previously supported Democrats shifted toward Trump [AS CAN SEEN ON THE MAP BELOW, SEVERAL NORTHERN AND WESTERN MINNESOTA COUNTIES SAW A “BLUE SHIFT” FROM 2016 TO 2020].
    3. Florida’s I-4 Corridor: Florida, a perennial swing state [NOT ‘PERENNIAL; ONLY FROM 1992 TO AROUND 2020], demonstrated a unique geographical pattern [WHAT IS  “UNIQUE” ABOUT IT?]. While the state as a whole leaned slightly toward Trump, the I-4 corridor, which stretches from Tampa Bay to Orlando, remained a closely contested battleground. This region, known for its political diversity and mix of urban and suburban areas [RURAL AREAS AS WELL], defied the state’s overall trend [A LOT OF ATTENTION HAS BEEN GIVEN TO THE MIXED AND CHANGING VOTING PATTERNS OF THE I-4 CORRIDOR; SEE THE SECOND MAP BELOW. BUT AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, THIS REGION IS NOT REALLY AN EXCEPTION TO FLORIDA’S GENERAL ELECTORAL PATTERNS, AND IT SAW ONLY MINOR ELECTORAL SHIFTS FROM 2016 TO 2020; SEE THE THIRD MAP BELOW].
    4. The Rural-Urban Split in Swing States: In swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the margins of victory in urban counties, such as Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia [THERE IS NO “DETROIT COUNTY”], were crucial in securing these states for Biden. Conversely, the majority of rural counties in these states remained staunchly Republican. The tension between urban centers and rural areas was starkly visible in these key battleground states.
    5. Native American Influence: In Arizona and New Mexico, Native American reservations and communities played a significant role in the election. Several counties with sizable Native American populations, such as Apache County in Arizona, favored Biden. This underscores the importance of demographic diversity and tribal influence in these southwestern states [YES, BUT WHAT ABOUT NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES IN OTHER STATES, PARTICUARLY MONTANA AND SOUTH DAKOTA?].
    6. Maine’s Split Decision: Maine stood out with its unique [NOT UNIQUE; NEBRASKA HAS THE SAME SYSTEM] allocation of electoral votes. While the state as a whole went for Biden, it was one of only two states (alongside Nebraska) [OK, BUT THIS STATEMENT CONTRADICTS  “UNIQUE’ IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE] to split its electoral votes by congressional district. Trump managed to secure one of Maine’s congressional districts, emphasizing the granularity of political preferences even within a single state. [“EVEN” WITHIN A SINGLE STATE? THERE IS TREMENDOUS “GRANULARITY” IN REGIONAL VOTING PATTERNS IN EVERY STATE. BESIDES THAT, MY QUERY WAS ABOUT VOTING PATTERNS AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, NOT ABOUT ELECTORAL VOTES]

In conclusion, the geographical patterns found in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as indicated by the margin of victory across counties, painted a diverse and multifaceted picture of American politics. While overarching trends pointed to the urban-rural divide and regional tendencies, notable exceptions illuminated the complexity of the electorate. These exceptions often hinged on factors like changing demographics, local economic conditions, and unique historical and cultural influences [LOCAL ECONOMIC CONDITIONS WERE NOT MENTIONED IN THE ESSAY], illustrating the rich tapestry of American democracy. Understanding these exceptions is crucial for a comprehensive analysis of the political landscape in the United States.

Religion Trumps Language in Turkey’s Hatay Province in the 2023 Presidential Election

Turkey’s Hatay Province, which forms a small “panhandle” extending southward along the eastern Mediterranean, is one of the most distinctive parts of the country. Hatay is characterized by linguistic and ethnic diversity. It has the highest percentage of Arabic speakers in Turkey. It is also home to several Christian communities (Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Maronite, Antiochian Greek, and Armenian Apostolic) and minority Muslim sects (Alawite and Alevi). As noted by Wikipedia, “Unlike most Mediterranean provinces, Hatay has not experienced mass migration from other parts of Turkey in recent decades and has therefore preserved much of its traditional culture.”

Hatay did not join Turkey until 1939, having previously been part of the French-ruled Mandate of Syria. When the French departed Syria, a referendum in Hatay led to union with Turkey, which was the outcome favored by France. Many observers, however, question the legitimacy of the vote. Many Syrians, moreover, reject the Turkish annexation of the region.

In the 2023 Turkish presidential election, incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the vote in Hatay by a relatively small margin. As the map below indicates, Erdoğan took some of Hatay’s districts handily, while his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu won others by an overwhelming majority. What might account for these differences? Following to the Wikipedia language map posted above, language does not seem to be the main factor, as some Arabic-majority districts voted heavily for Erdoğan and others for Kılıçdaroğlu.

The language map in question, however, is imprecise. Another Wikipedia map, limited to Hatay, provides a much better depiction, although it does not take population density into account (see the second map posted below). Here Arabic-speaking areas are noted with green markings, with Turkish speaking areas marked in red. Three districts in Hatay have Arabic-speaking majorities, which I have indicated on the paired electoral with the letter “A.” As can be seen on this map, one of these districts overwhelmingly supported Erdoğan, one overwhelmingly supported Kılıçdaroğlu, and the either had mixed results.

The key to explaining this seeming discrepancy is found in religion, which is also noted on the Wikipedia map in question. Here Arabic-speaking Sunni areas are marked with green squares while Arabic-speaking Alawite districts are marked with green circles. As can be seen by comparing these maps, the Alawite-dominated areas strongly supported Kılıçdaroğlu, whereas the Sunni-dominated areas strongly supported Erdoğan – as did Arabic-speaking Sunni areas elsewhere in Turkey.

Alawites should not be confused with Alevis, although they often are, and they do have a number of similarities. Both are members of highly heterodox Shia offshoot sects who generally favor a resolutely secular political order. The Turkish-speaking population of Hatay includes some Alevis, although they are not indicated on the map posted above, or on any other map that I have found. Alawites, in contrast, are almost entirely Arabic speaking. Most Alawites live to the south, in the coastal area of Syria, where they form the majority population. The Assad government of Syria is dominated by Alawites, although they have been long disparaged and are often despised by their country’s Sunni majority. Alawites in Turkey’s Hatay province show pronounced hostility to Erdoğan, who supported the “Arab Spring” movement to overthrow Syria’s Alawite-dominated Assad regime. Erdoğan also gave sanctuary to millions of Syrian Sunni refugees, who tend to exhibit hostility towards Alawites.

This situation was depicted by Soner Cagaptay in a 2013 article:

Warning signs of this have been evident for months. For example, local Alawite groups such as the “Platform Against Imperialistic Interference in Syria” have been organizing pro-Assad rallies for some time — the largest, held last September, drew over ten thousand people. As one Alawite put it during an interview with Aljazeera, “Western imperialistic powers, along with Sunni-led regimes, are trying to topple a legitimate regime in Syria.” Minor tensions between Sunni refugees from Syria and Hatay Alawites have been reported as well. Alawite business owners and civil servants complain of Syrian refugees questioning them over their sectarian identity, with some claiming they have been blacklisted and harassed by Sunni Arab emigres.

For more information on the similarities and differences between Alevis and Alawites, see Cagaptay’s interesting but no doubt controversial 2012 article, “Are Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis the Same?”

Economic Disparities and Election Results in Turkey

The Republic of Türkiye (Turkey) is characterized by stark discrepancies in regional economic productivity. In 2021, nominal per capita GDP figures ranged from 153,479 Turkish Lira (17,089 US$) in Kocaeli Province, located east of Istanbul, to 26,837 Turkish Lira (2,988 US$) in Ağrı Province, located along Turkey’s eastern border. Although maps of Turkish per capita GDP by province are readily available, I made my own to highlight these regional disparities, accomplished mainly by using a two-color scheme.

The correlation between economic productivity and ethnicity in Turkey is close, at least on the low end of the spectrum. As can be seen by comparing the two posted above with that posted below, Turkey’s least economically productive provinces are all located in the primarily Kurdish southeast. The most economically productive provinces are concentrated on the other side of the country, in the northwest. This latter region includes both coastal provinces and provinces located in the northwestern quarter of the central Anatolian Plateau.

Historically, Turkey’s western coastal strip was much more productive than most of the rest of the country. Over the past several decades, however, a number of cities on the Anatolian Plateau have seen significant industrialization and rapid economic growth. Several have been deemed “Anatolian Tigers,” defined by Wikipedia as cities that “have displayed impressive growth records since the 1980s, as well as a defined breed of entrepreneurs rising in prominence and who can often be traced back to the cities in question and who generally rose from the status of small and medium enterprises.” Some of these “Tiger cities,” however, are located closer to the coast than the plateau. (The locations of the “Anatolian Tigers,” as defined by Wikipedia, are shown on one of the maps below.)

A comparison of the map of Turkish economic productivity with that of the 2023 presidential election (see the previous post) reveals some interesting connections. To illustrate these patterns more clearly, I have outlined in red the provinces that supported challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, superimposing them on the per capita GDP map.

As can be seen, a majority of the Turkey’s richer and poorer provinces supported Kılıçdaroğlu, whereas most of its mid-level provinces supported Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Closer analysis, however, reveals that other factors are more important than per capita GDP for understanding the election results. For example, Kocaeli, Turkey’s most economically productive province, supported Erdoğan, as did most of its prosperous northwestern neighboring provinces. Support for Kılıçdaroğlu in the poor southeast, moreover, is less a reflection of economic standing than of Kurdish ethnicity, as most Kurds reject Erdoğan’s pronounced and ethnically inflected Turkish nationalism.

An interesting exception to the general patterns of anti-Erdoğan sentiments in the southeast is Şanlıurfa, which is one of Turkey’s poorest provinces; it also has, according to Wikipedia, a Kurdish majority. Yet Şanlıurfa decisively supported Erdoğan, as it had in the past several elections. But Şanlıurfa is more ethnically mixed than the Wikipedia article on it indicates; a 1996 study found that it had a Kurdish plurality but not a majority. Şanlıurfa is home to a substantial Arab community, as well as a very large refugee population. As the paired set of maps post below shows, the Arabic-speaking part of Şanlıurfa voted overwhelmingly for Erdoğan. (The pattern is markedly different, however, in Turkey’s most heavily Arabic-speaking province, Hatay, as will be examined in a later post.)

Kılıçdaroğlu’s other main region of support was the far west and southwest, covering the European portion of Turkey and the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Historically, this was the wealthiest part of Turkey, and it has long been the most liberal and Western-oriented part of the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that it supported the more liberal and Western-oriented candidate.

As the upper map posted above shows, Erdoğan’s main bastions of support are located in the core Anatolian Plateau, with the important exception of those areas dominated by the Alevi religious minority, and the Black Sea coast. Much of this region has seen substantial economic growth and infrastructural investment under Erdoğan’s leadership, has long been noted for its more conservative interpretations of Turkish nationalism. Many of the districts along the eastern half of the Black Sea coast had been heavily populated by ethnic Greeks before the early 1920s; when the local Greeks were expelled, Turks moved in, many of whom had themselves been expelled from Greece at the same time. It is not surprising that the descendants of such people are noted for their pronounced Turkish nationalism.

Two important provinces in the western portion of the Anatolian plateau supported Kılıçdaroğlu the 2023 election. One is Ankara, where the national capital (of the same name) is located, and the other is Eskişehir, which is noted for its large and strong universities. It is not surprising that these more cosmopolitan provinces voted against Erdoğan. Yet both provinces, and that of Istanbul as well, supported Erdoğan in the 2018 election, when his opposition was divided (see the maps below). From 2018 to 2023, Erdoğa lost ground in major urban areas, along the southern Mediterranean coast, and in the far northeast (another area with large ethnic minorities). Yet his overall vote stayed roughly the same, indicating a solidification of support over the core Anatolian region. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi faith may have played a significant role here.

Immigration and Religion in Turkey’s 2023 Presidential Election

In the Turkish presidential election of May 2023, long-term leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decisively defeated his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, taking 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent. The results were a surprise to many, as in April most polls had put Kılıçdaroğlu ahead, some by a commanding lead. In this election, Erdoğan’s opposition had finally forged a united front. Pronounced inflation, mounting indebtedness, and a devastating earthquake contributed to a widespread feeling that Erdoğan was headed to defeat. Yet in the end, Erdoğan received a higher percentage of the vote than he had in 2014 and only slightly less than in 2018.

Erdoğan is generally regarded as a strongly nationalist, right-wing populist with somewhat authoritarian inclinations, and for good reasons. Kılıçdaroğlu, in contrast, is a figure of the left, having been vice president of the Socialist International from 2012 to 2014. Yet on the crucial issues of immigration and refugees, Kılıçdaroğlu situated himself to the right of Erdoğan, at least in terms of how the left-right spectrum is conceptualized in the United States and Europe. As the election approached, moreover, Kılıçdaroğlu intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric, telling his supporters that, “We will not abandon our homeland to this mentality that allowed 10 million irregular migrants to come among us.” (The figure is probably closer to five or six million, which is still a huge number for a country of 85 million.) Kılıçdaroğlu went so far as to seek and gain the support of the far-right anti-immigration politician Ümit Özdağ. A few days before the election the two men signed a seven-point protocol, one line of which stipulated that “All asylum seekers and fugitives, especially Syrians, will be sent back to their countries within one year at the latest.” At roughly the same time, Özdağ released a short film showing “a dystopian Turkey, dangerous for Turks and governed by Syrians, where speaking in Turkish is forbidden.” It quickly went viral on social media.

Did Kılıçdaroğlu’s increasingly harsh immigration stance contribute to his defeat? Some observers think so. According to Sinan Ciddi, “Kilicdaroglu’s turn to the political right appeared desperate and inconsistent, and likely turned off some Kurdish voters.” It is also noteworthy that Kilicdaroglu did not do very well in most areas with concentrated refugee populations (see the paired maps below). But overall, anti-immigrant rhetoric probably cost Kılıçdaroğlu few votes. Turkey’s massive refugee population is widely viewed as placing an intolerable burden on social order and the economy. As noted in a 2019 article, “83 percent of Turks said they view Syrian refugees negatively, while only 17 percent said they viewed them positively.”

Many observers credit Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat instead to his lackluster campaign, a lack of genuine unity in his camp, and his neglect of core economic issues – as well as to the underhanded methods employed by Erdoğan’s campaign. Ciddi, however, claims that “the uncomfortable truth is that Erdogan won because Kemal Kilicdaroglu was his opponent,” arguing that the 74-year-old candidate’s “nomination was imposed from the top, with little to no deliberation.” A more dynamic opposition candidate who had been selected democratically, he implies, probably would have won.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s religious faith also probably contributed to his defeat. He is a member of the minority Alevi sect, a Shia offshoot that is followed by roughly 15 percent of the population of Turkey, otherwise a strongly Sunni country. Alevism is noted for its liberal and cosmopolitan orientation and for its belief that the core tenets of Islam should be interpreted in a decidedly non-literal manner. According to many strict Sunnis, Alevis do not even belong to the Muslim community. By publicly embracing his faith in the campaign, Kılıçdaroğlu took a calculated risk.  As the French political scientist Elise Massicard argues:

He broke a taboo. Until then, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi identity had been seen more as an incriminating campaign argument, as Alevis have a bad and often sulfurous reputation among a predominantly Sunni population. In recent years, they have been largely excluded from the power channels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip [Erdogan]’s AKP [Justice and Development Party] and its associated resources. This “coming out” – when everyone in Turkey knows Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi – is a way of reclaiming that identity and turning the stigma around.

Did such a “coming out” insure Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat? I was told as much by a prominent Turkish intellectual, whose anonymity I respect. What is most clear, however, is that Kılıçdaroğlu performed extremely well in Alevi dominated areas. At the provincial level, his best showing was in Tunceli, the only Turkish province with an Alevi majority. (Although no numbers are provided, this is clear on the Wikipedia map of the election posted below.) The same pattern is more strikingly evident on the Electoral Geography 2.0 district-level map. Yet as this map also shows, Kılıçdaroğlu’s margin of victory was even larger in a few districts located far from Tunceli. Some of these showings, however, are explicable on the same religious grounds. Kılıçdaroğlu scored an overwhelming victory, for example, in Damal in the far northwest, and Damal is a district “populated by Alevi Turkmens.” But at the same time, Kılıçdaroğlu did not do well in many areas in Anatolia with sizable Alevi minorities, which might indicate strong anti-Alevi sentiments among their majority populations.

We shall examine other geographical patterns in the 2023 Turkish election in the next GeoCurrents post.

The Astounding Rise of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most densely populated and urbanized countries. But it is also a farming powerhouse; by some measures, the Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter by value, following only the United States. The Netherlands manages to profit so handsomely from farming in such a crowded land by focusing on the intensive production of high-value crops.

By many measures, the Netherlands’ agricultural system operates in an environmentally responsible manner. In 2019, the World Economic Forum lauded the country as a leader in efficient and sustainable agriculture. But Dutch farmers, like almost all others, are responsible for some environmental degradation, which the government of the Netherlands is now eager to reduce. Pronounced opposition is generated in the process. Recent restrictions on nutrient runoff and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides have been viewed by most Dutch farmers as a threat to their livelihoods. In 2019, a new Dutch party, the Farmer-Citizens Movement, emerged to represent the country’s agricultural sector. This party seeks to enact a “Right to Agriculture Act,” wants to reduce the power of the European Union over Dutch farmers, and is wary of climate mitigation policies. It is generally regarded as a center-right to right-wing populist organization.

In the Dutch provincial election of March 15th, 2023, the Farmer-Citizen Movement achieved a shocking victory, not only coming in first place nationwide (with more than 19 percent of the vote), but also achieving a first-place showing in every province. In the same contest, all the Netherlands’ established parties saw major losses. The only other significant party experiencing a gain was the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren; PvdD), which took almost 5% of the vote nationwide. Intriguingly, these two growing parties are situated at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, particularly when it comes to agricultural issues. Caroline van der Plas, leader of Farmer-Citizen Movement, has stated that the Party for Animals is one of her party’s two main enemies, the other being Wakker Dier, an animal-welfare organization that seeks to end factory farming.

The recent Dutch election attracted a great deal of interest in the country. According to NL Times, “The turnout stood at 57.5 percent, higher than 2019’s already high 56 percent … [and] likely [to] be the highest since the late 1980s.” Its results have generated much analysis, if not soul-searching, among the leaders of the Dutch political establishment. According to EuroNews, the election represented a “resounding rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling four-party coalition.” As the NL Times reported:



Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the BBB’s massive victory “a very clear cry to politicians” and a “very clear relevant signal” from the voter. Rutte told ANP he does not yet know how to interpret this cry. He needs more time to think about it. Sixteen hours after the first results is too early for a “full-fledged analysis,” he said.

The electoral map of the 2023 provincial election in the Netherlands reveals precisely what one would expect: the Farmer-Citizen Movement had its best showing in provinces with relatively low population density and its worst in those of higher density. It might be surprising, however, that it did as well as it did in such thickly settled areas as North and South Holland and Utrecht, taking more than 13% of the vote in all three. But as the agricultural map of the Netherlands posted below shows, even these provinces have a significant amount of highly productive agricultural land. The Farmer-Citizen Movement also finds some support among Dutch urban dwellers; the national economy of their country, after all, rests heavily on its agricultural sector.

Intriguingly, the electoral returns of the Party for the Animals show very little geographical variation. I started to make a map of its vote by province, but abandoned the quest when I realized that it would reveal almost nothing. This party’s vote-share was almost the same in agrarian Drenthe (4.5%) as in highly urban South Holland (4.7%).

As the 2023 Dutch election indicates, Europe is experiencing a political realignment in which the division between rural and metropolitan areas figures more prominently than it did in the past. The same tendency is found in North America. Climate politics will almost certainly intensify this divide. It will be interesting to see how such a realignment plays out in coming elections.

An Electoral-Geographical Paradox in Czechia? Not Really

In the January 2023 presidential election in Czechia (the Czech Republic), former army general Petr Pavel decisively defeated former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, with Pavel taking 58.33 percent of the vote to Babiš’s 41.67. Most political leaders and commentators in Western Europe and North America were relieved by this outcome. Pavel is noted for his strong pro-NATO and pro-Western views. He is also a social progressive. Finding inspiration in Scandinavian countries, he supports same-sex marriage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and increased economic redistribution. He also opposes the death penalty. Babiš, in contrast, has expressed skepticism towards NATO and is often regarded as having authoritarian tendencies. He rejects the European Union’s refugee policy, arguing that it is the responsibility of the Czech government to look after the interest of Czech citizens, and has made dismissive comments about his country’s Roma (or Romani) minority. In 2013, he won a satirical prize for the “anti-ecological comment of the year.” Babiš is also extremely wealthy and has been involved in a number a financial and political scandals.

Maps of the 2023 Czech presidential election show a distinct metropolitan/non-metropolitan divide. Although Pavel won the majority of the votes cast across most of the country, his level of support was significantly higher in the Prague metropolitan area, in Brno, Czechia’s second largest city, and in Plzeň, its fourth largest. Babiš, in contrast, did better in rural areas and those dominated by small cities. The one important exception was the metropolitan area of Ostrava, located in the northeastern part of the country. Ostrava is Czechia’s “rust belt,” a region formerly dominated by coal mining and steelmaking that experienced significant decline after the fall of communist rule. It is not surprising that the socially progressive, pro-Western candidate Pavel performed poorly in such an area.

The geographical patterns described above are similar to those found in recent elections in the United States and Western Europe. From an American perspective, Pavel would certainly be regarded as the more left-wing candidate and Babiš as the more right-wing one. But the situation is more complicated. Pavel, for example, describes himself as “right of center,” owing largely to his support for corporate interests and economic orthodoxy. The more populist Babiš, for his part, enacted some policies when he was Prime Minister that would generally be regarded as left-leaning, including increasing pensions and public-sector salaries. Many Czechs therefore reverse the “right-wing” and “left-wing” tags for the two politicians. Consider, for example, the map below, originally posted on Reddit Europe by the Czech commentator “Victor D.” Here the Prague region is mapped as almost always voting for right-wing candidate – as are the country’s other major cities, except left-voting Ostrava. Victor D. depicts rural areas and those dominated by small cities as habitually supporting candidates on the left. He understands that such categorizations run counter to those found in Western Europe:

Western Europeans please note: the usual European situation where cities are mainly left-leaning while the countryside is more right-leaning is reversed in Czechia. This is mainly because the left is, due to historical developments, seen as the “conservative” force in the country, while the right has been the driving force for change and reform. As a result, large urban centres in Czechia are mostly leaning centre-right (liberal, progressive), while rural regions lean towards the left…”

It seems to me that the “usual European situation” is not reversed in Czechia: what is reversed is rather the meaning of the terms “left” and “right.” The connotations of these essential political categories have been in flux for some time in western Europe and especially in North America. The left historically found its main base of support in the working class, which generally opposes the economic interests of the elites but also tends to have somewhat conservative views on social and cultural issues. In recent decades, political parties previously identified as left-wing have turned more to affluent professionals, business leaders, and college-educated workers in the service sector, simultaneously losing support among the traditional working class. Put differently, traditional class politics in “the West” have declined in importance, whereas those associated with identity groups and social, cultural, and environmental issues have become increasingly central.

Such changes in political affiliation and categorization present major problems for communication. From the perspective of current political discourse in the United States, Victor D’s assertion that “large urban centres in Czechia are mostly leaning centre-right (liberal, progressive), while rural regions lean towards the left…” makes no sense whatsoever. But if the terms are defined in a different and most historical manner, they make perfect sense.

I have long been reluctant to use the term “liberal” when discussing politics, as the meanings of this term can be so different as to be diametrically opposed. In the U.S., someone now described as an “extreme liberal” sits at the opposite end of the political spectrum from a “neo-liberal,” whose views would be more accurately described as “paleo-liberal.” I now sometimes wonder whether even “left” and “right” have become so unmoored from their original meanings as to lose their utility as terms of analysis. But what could possibly replace them?  We seem to be stuck in a situation of fundamental paradox and ambiguity.

Cannabis Legalization in the U.S. Elections of 2022

The 2022 midterm elections in the United States had mixed results for cannabis legalization. Voters in Maryland and Missouri approved legalization measures, easily in the first case and by a relatively narrow margin in the second (see the charts below). Missouri thus became the third solidly “red state” to allow cannabis consumption without a medical recommendation, following Alaska and Montana. Voters in Arkansas and South Dakota, however, rejected legalization, with a 56% “no” vote in the former state and a 55% “no” vote in the latter. The South Dakota vote took many by surprise, as just two years earlier a legalization referendum passed, which was later invalidated in court. South Dakota voters will again take on the issue in the fall of 2023, but indications for legalization are not positive. As reported by Benzinga.com, “a statewide poll conducted this summer revealed that South Dakotans’ general sentiment toward legalizing recreational marijuana has shifted over the past two years, signaling that a referendum on the issue this fall could fail.” At the federal level, meanwhile, congressional efforts to eliminate the de jure cannabis prohibition stalled out, yet again.

The failure of federal cannabis legalization, and in some states as well, seems to defy the general public will. Opinion polls conducted by a variety of organizations show overwhelming support. An October 2021 Gallup poll found that even 50% of Republicans favor full legalization, with Democrats and independents offering overwhelming approval (83% and 71%). Similar results have been obtained by other polling agencies. A 2022 CBS/YouGov poll found a 66% level of support for legalization at both the federal and state levels. According to this poll, Republicans overall narrowly oppose legalization (51% to 49%), but those below the age of 45 solidly support it (59%). A 2022 Pew survey found that only 10 percent of Americans think that cannabis should be illegal for all purposes. According to the same poll, Americans in every age bracket except that of the elderly (75+) favor full legalization.

Given these numbers, along with the fact that American voters are roughly evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats and independents, the persistence of federal anti-cannabis laws is difficult to explain. In this arena, seems that Congress is defying the public will. Quandaries also emerge at the state level. Even in deep blue Hawaii and Delaware, cannabis remains legal only for medical uses, and in several purplish states it remains fully illegal (Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia). How can these results be squared with public opinion polls that shows overwhelming support for legalization?

A variety of factors are probably at play. Simple inertia probably plays a role, and as a result it seems likely that Hawaii and Delaware will opt for legalization before too long. More important, however, is the concerted opposition of anti-cannabis forces. A sizable minority of Americans is vehemently opposed, with many regarding marijuana as nothing less than the “devil’s weed.”* As is often the case, the desires a vehement minority can override the less passionate concerns of a substantial majority. It is significant that legalization has often occurred through popular referenda rather than through legislation, as legislators can be more easily swayed by interest groups than the voters at large.

But another factor may be involved as well. Legalization, it turns out, has often yielded discouraging or even disastrous results. With revenues much lower than expected, chaotic business environments, and a thriving black market, states like California demonstrate the potential hazards of a poorly formulated legal regime. As a result, some legislators, and many voters, may ultimately favor legalization, yet still reject whatever proposal is put before them, skeptical that it gets it right. These issues will be examined in much greater detail in later posts

*The term “devil’s weed” is used most often for Datura, or jimsonweed, which contains several powerful and poisonous psychoactive substances. For a religiously informed discussion of cannabis as the “devil’s weed,” see Marijuana – The Devil’s Weed?, by Dr. Joe Fawcett.

Opposing Views on the U.S. Suburban Electoral Shift, and the New York/Philadelphia Paradox

The changing political orientation of the American suburbs has emerged as a major topic in recent electoral analysis. As a 2019 New York Times headline asked, “Are the Suburbs Turning Democratic?: The Political Dividing Line in America Used to Be Between Democratic Cities And Republican Suburbs; Now It Runs Through the Center of the Suburbs Themselves.” As this article correctly notes, since 2016 inner suburbs have generally moved in a Democratic direction, whereas outer suburbs have remained in the Republican camp. Just this week, the New York Times ran another headline proclaiming, “Democrats Retained Their Grip on Diversifying Suburbs: Modest Gains by GOP Can’t Reverse a Trend That Started In 2018.” Although the article contains some insightful analysis and is accompanied by two revealing maps (posted below), the implications of the headline are frankly bizarre. It implies that the authors can predict the future of electoral geography in the United States based on their analysis of recent trends. Such trends, as we all know, can pivot quickly. As recently as 2010, Newsweek ran a headline reading, “Dems Lose Grip on Crucial Suburbs,” with the article noting that, “When Long Island flipped from red to blue in recent years, Republicans looked unlikely to ever win another statewide election.”  Long Island, however, has flipped back and forth several times since this article was published.

The most recent New York Times headline, with the crucial word “diversifying,” might also be read as an implication that ethnic and racial diversification will determine the outcomes of future elections in American suburbs. This “demography is political destiny” thesis implicitly rests on the earlier works of Democratic analyst Ruy Teixeira, particularly his co-written 2004 book The Emerging Democratic Majority. Teixeira, however, has largely repudiated these ideas, based on his detailed demographic analyses of recent elections. He shows that minority voters, particularly Hispanic ones, have been drifting away from the Democratic Party, and he argues that this shift will likely continue unless the Democrats alter some of their positions, particularly on social and cultural matters. A recent article by Teixeira interprets suburban voting trends quite differently than the New York Times does. As he writes:

And just how much hold do the Democrats have on suburban voters anyway? In the AP/NORC VoteCast survey, the most reliable election survey available, Democrats carried suburban voters nationwide by a single point in 2022. That’s a slippage of 9 points from the Democrats’ 10 point margin in 2020. Interestingly, the slippage in Democratic support from 2020 to 2022 was actually larger among nonwhite than white suburban voters. These data indicate strongly that Democrats might not be in quite the catbird seat they think they are with suburban voters and therefore with the 2024 election. But they appear to have a touching faith that the anti-MAGA playbook will work anytime anywhere.

As both Teixeira and the New York Times writers fully understand, the American suburbs are by no means electorally uniform. One major discrepancy, highlighted by the Times, is that between New York and Philadelphia. In the 2022 election, the modest red shift in the Philadelphia suburbs was not enough to make up for a more substantial blue shift in previous elections. In the New York suburbs, on the other hand, “the four point shift towards the Democrats in 2020 was more than undone by the five point swing toward the Republicans in 2022.”

The 2022 shift toward the Republicans in the New York metropolitan area occurred in both suburban and urban districts. In the the 2022 New York State Assembly election (second map posted below), the shift in the Republican direction was been more pronounced in the outer boroughs of the city than in the Long Island suburbs.

The New York Times attributes the Republican gains in the New York suburbs to two main factors: “governor Kathy Hochul proved a weak Democratic standard bearer … while Republicans mounted a visceral campaign assaulting Democrats over crime.” While rising crime was no doubt an important issue in the New York election, one must ask why it was not equally important in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Violent crime, after all, has risen more in Philadelphia than in most other major cities. Why then would Republicans be able to capitalize on this issue in New York but not in Philadelphia? Perhaps one factor is the more prominent role of the tabloid press in the former area (particularly the New York Post), which reports extensively on crime. Comments from readers who have more knowledge of these two metropolitan areas would be highly welcome.

The Vermont Paradox: A Left-Wing State with a Remarkably Popular Republican Governor

Historically, Vermont was one of the most Republican-voting states in the union. In 1936 it was one of only two states (along with Maine) to favor Alf Landon over Franklin D. Roosevelt, and did so decisively. But since 1988, Vermont has voted for Democratic presidential candidates. It is now by some measures the country’s most left-wing state. In 2020, Vermont gave a higher percentage of its votes to Joe Biden than any other state. Its democratic-socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, won his most recent election easily, gaining the support of 67.4 percent of Vermont voters. In the state’s 2022 U.S. Senate election, Democrat Peter Welsh overwhelmed Republican Gerald Malloy, who took only 27.6 percent of the vote. But these were all national elections; at the state level, a different picture emerges. Vermont not only has a Republican governor, Phil Scott, but an extraordinarily popular one at that. In 2022, Scott enjoyed a landslide election, taking 69.2% of the vote. Of all the sitting governors in the United States, only Mark Gordon of Wyoming received a higher percentage of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election (see the map below).

Vermont is not the only state with different political environments at the national and state levels. If one compares maps of gubernatorial and presidential elections, the general correlation is relatively close – but the exceptions are significant. As of early 2023, three “red” states will have Democratic governors (Kentucky, Kansas, and Louisiana), and three “blue” states will have Republican governors (Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont). Currently, deep blue Maryland and Massachusetts also have Republican governors, although in 2022 both states elected Democratic replacements. Of these seemingly incongruous states, Vermont is by far the most aberrant. It is extreme on both scores, being the most Democratic-voting state in recent national elections and the second most Republican-voting state in the most recent gubernatorial elections.

Like other recent Republican governors in New England, Scott occupies a left-center position on social and cultural issues and a center to center-right position on economic issues. According to his own self-description, “I and very much a fiscal conservative. But not unlike most Republicans in the northeast, I’m probably more on the left of center from a social standpoint. I am a pro-choice Republican.” Scott’s fiscal conservatism is probably key to his success. Vermont is a high-tax state, and evidently many of its residents want to hold the line on further taxation and expenditure.

Scott’s landslide 2022 victory was also related to the unpopularity of his Democratic opponent, Brenda Siegel. Siegel took only 23.4 percent of the vote, losing every county in the state (independents and write-ins took 5 percent of the vote). Siegel is a noted progressive activist, who focused her campaign on homelessness, the housing crisis, the opioid epidemic, drug-law reform, and climate change. As noted by VTDigger,

[Siegal] gained the most attention last fall when she slept on the Statehouse steps for 27 nights to pressure leaders to extend the state’s motel voucher program for Vermonters without permanent housing. The goal, she said, was to serve as a constant reminder to lawmakers about the realities of living outside, confronting them on their walks to work and pressuring them to act. After nearly a month of sleeping on the cold stone steps, she and fellow activists prevailed when the program was extended through the winter.


One might have expected Siegel’s political positions and steadfast determination to prove popular in a state as left-wing as Vermont. Electoral returns, however, indicate otherwise. Although the Democrats’ progressive wing has substantial clout within the party, it is regarded with suspicion by moderate Democrats and is rejected outright by most independents. As a result, progressive candidates often have a difficult time winning elections. But if Vermont Republicans had nominated a Trumpian populist, Siegel’s probably would have prevailed. Vermont Republicans, however, incline away from right-wing populism. In 2016, Donald Trump won the Vermont Republican primary, but did so with only 32% of the vote. John Kasich, a center-right if not centrist candidate, came close to winning, taking 30% of the vote.

In several deep blue states, most notably California, Republicans currently have little if any chance of prevailing in a gubernatorial contest. If they were to nominate a moderate candidate, success could be possible. But the Republican base in most parts of the country disdains center-right candidates as “RINOs,” or “Republicans in name only.” In California, where Donald Trump took 75 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary, Republicans are unlikely to nominate a candidate who has a serious chance of winning.

The United States has not only undergone pronounced political polarization in recent decades, but it has also entered an era of what might be called “negative politics.” In this environment, both parties are unpopular with the public at large, and many voters opt not for the party or candidate that they like the best, but rather the one they dislike – or even hate – the least. This unstable dynamic will be explored in a later post.


The 2022 Republican Losses in Pennsylvania and Michigan

By the 1990s, Pennsylvania and Michigan had become solidly Democratic states in national elections, forming key blocks in the so-called Blue Wall stretching across the northeastern quadrant of the country. In 2016, however, both states swung to Republican Donald Trump, albeit by very narrow margins. In the 2022 two midterm election, both states returned to the blue camp, with Democratic candidates outperforming expectations. In all likelihood, Michigan and Pennsylvania will be critical states in the 2024 President presidential election.

In Pennsylvania’s election, several Republican candidates severely stumbled. In the gubernatorial contest, Doug Mastriano took only 42% of the vote. Mastriano’s defeat was expected, as he was widely regarded as an extremist candidate associated with the fringe Christian nationalist movement. The U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania, in contrast, was expected to be close. Many Republicans were optimistic about the prospects of their candidate, Mehmet Oz. Oz had won a close Republican primary in which the endorsement of radio broadcaster Sean Hannity may have been decisive. But in the end, Oz received only 46.5% of the vote. Many Pennsylvanians were evidently skeptical about Doctor Oz. Beyond political issues, objections focused on his dual Turkish citizenship, his career as a television doctor who dabbled in pseudoscience, and the fact that he had only recently moved to Pennsylvania.

In the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, the Republican Party also performed poorly, losing 12 seats and control of the body. Comparing the 2022 election map to that of 2016, the biggest difference is the massive loss of support for Republicans in the affluent southeastern corner of the state, located in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. The Democrats also gained a seat in the Pennsylvania State Senate, although they did not win control. In the 2022 U.S. House of Representatives election in Pennsylvania, the Republicans lost a seat while the Democrats held steady (the state dropped a seat in redistricting). Yet in terms of the popular U.S. House vote, the Republicans triumphed, taking 52.6% of the vote. This result show that Pennsylvania is still a purple state, one in which Republicans can win if they put forward the right candidates.

Pennsylvania is deeply divided by electoral geography. The eastern part of the state, particularly the Philadelphia metropolitan area, is now firmly in the blue category, as is the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in the west. Contrastingly, central Pennsylvania, often disparagingly referred to as “Pennsatucky,” is in general a socially conservative area that leans in a strikingly populist direction. In the 2016 Republican presidential primary election, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania handily, with 58% of the vote. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania Republicans were able to nominate a number of Trumpian populists who were not competitive in the 2022 election.

Trump was not nearly as popular in Michigan in the 2016 Republican primary election as he was in Pennsylvania, taking only 37% of the state’s vote. But Michigan Republicans nominated several very conservative candidates in 2022. They had high hopes for their gubernatorial choice, Tudor Dixon, widely regarded as a charismatic candidate. Dixon’s opponent, incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, was viewed by many as vulnerable, partly because of her rather draconian COVID policies. In the end, however, Whitmer triumphed handily, taking 54.9% of the vote. She won in several  counties in the Lower Peninsula that have often supported Republican candidates (compare the 2022 and 2014 maps). Abortion may have been a crucial factor in this election. Tudor Dixon was noted for her strong pro-life stance, opposing abortion even in cases of incest and rape. In the same election, Michiganders gave 56.6 percent of their vote to a referendum “Creat[ing] a Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom.” The Republicans Party also lost a Michigan seat in the US House of Representatives, as well as the state’s popular House vote, albeit by a narrow margin. Michigan Democrats took control of both chambers of the state legislature, gaining four seats in the senate and three in the house.

Although Donald Trump is still polling ahead of other possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2024 and is therefore the apparently front-runner, the 2022 elections in Michigan and Pennsylvania indicate that he would difficulty winning these crucial states. Although several right-populist pundits and politicians, including Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, have warned against blaming Trump for the disappointing Republican tallies in 2022, the Michigan and Pennsylvania results point in a different direction.

Mixed Election Returns in Arizona: The Trump Effect?

One of the main take-home messages of the 2022 U.S. election is that individual states matter a great deal. The Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely because they did well in New York, a distinctly blue state, and in Florida, a formerly purple state that is now firmly in the red category. The Democrats, on the other hand, performed well in Pennsylvania and Michigan, both in national and state contests. Other states showed less pronounced movement in either direction. Arizona, in contrast, came in with highly mixed results, offering disappointment for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Arizona was once one of the most reliably Republican states in the union. It was the only state outside of the Deep South to support Barry Goldwater, a native son, in the pivotal 1964 election. Although it voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, it did not opt again for a Democratic presidential candidate until 2020. In that year, Arizona had the country’s closest electoral margin, with Biden receiving 49.36% of the vote and Trump 49.06%. Arizona can now be considered a deep-purple swing state. It also has a reputation for supporting maverick candidates, whether Democrat or Republican. In the recent part, Republican Senator John McCain often irritated other members of his party, as does Democratic SenatorKyrsten Sinema currently.

In Arizona’s 2020 gubernatorial election, Republicans had high hopes for their candidate, Kari Lake. Lake, a former television newscaster, is very comfortable in front of the camera and was widely regarded by Republican pundits as an ideal and charismatic candidate – a “MAGA star” according to some. In contrast, her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, refused to debate and did relatively little campaigning as the polls tightened and the election approached. In the end, Hobbs eked out a narrow victory, which Lake has been reluctant to accept. In the Arizona U.S. Senate contest, Democratic candidate Mark Kelly more handily defeated his Republican opponent, Blake Masters, winning by roughly 5 percentage points. In these high-profile contests, the Democrats were clearly victorious.

But in the 2022 U.S. House of Representative elections in Arizona, a different picture emerges. Going into the contest the Democrats held five Arizona House seats and the Republicans four. After the votes were tallied, the Republicans ended up with six seats, the Democrats three.

The Republicans’ success in the Arizona House races, in contrast to their failure in the gubernatorial and senate elections, seems to be linked to the nature of the individual candidates. Both Kari Lake and Blake Masters are strong Trump supporters who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Lake also pointedly rejected the support of Republicans affiliated with John McCain, insulting his legacy. This may not have been a wise strategy. Four days before the election, she told an audience of her supporters:

“We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we?” Lake asked from a campaign stage. “Alright, get the hell out,” she said, before adding, “Boy, Arizona has delivered some losers, haven’t they?”

Senate candidate Blake Masters, for his part, is widely regarded as a hard-core American nationalist who has also opposed U.S. aid to Ukraine. Perhaps more harmful to his image, he is seen as a protege of the controversial tech tycoon Peter Thiel. Thiel’s advocacy of such causes as transhumanism does not endear him to traditional conservatives.

Donald Trump strongly lent his support to Lake and Masters. But he also endorsed two successful Arizona U.S. House candidates, David Schweikert and Eli Crane. Schweikert, however, won by an extraordinarily thin margin, even though his district had been rated as “safe Republican” by 538. Crane won easily, but his victory can be attributed in part to a redistricting process that created a safe Republican seat.

The take-home message of the 2022 Arizona election is that close association with Donald Trump, along with a reputation for extremism, often proves harmful for Republican candidates. In the Arizona U.S. House contest, the Republican candidates received 56.4 percent of the vote statewide, whereas the Republican Senate candidate received only 46.5 percent. These are striking numbers.

As we shall see in the next GeoCurrents post, Trump-endorsed candidates also performed poorly in Michigan and Pennsylvania. These two states had moved from the “blue” to the “purple” category in recent election, but both now seem to be trending back in the Democratic direction.

Geographical Patterns in the 2022 Election, Part 1, The North-Central United States

The U.S. House of Representatives 2022 election was an almost exact inverse of the 2020 contest. In 2020, the Democrats won 50.8 percent of the popular vote nationwide and took 222 seats; in 2022, the Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote nationwide and will probably end up with 222 seats. Yet both parties can credibly claim to have triumphed in this election. The Republicans took control of the House, but they performed worse than expected. The party out of power at the presidential level usually loses more seats in a midterm election, and in this contest the Democrats faced serious headwinds, including an unpopular president, a high rate of inflation, and a pervasive feeling that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The electoral geography of the United States has been in transition for the past several decades, with nonmetropolitan regions trending in the Republican direction as metropolitan areas trend in the Democratic direction. The Pacific Coast and the southern half of the interior West have also shifted toward the Democrats, as has the Northeast, while the Midwest and the South have moved toward the Republicans. In the 2022 contest, some of these trends continued but others showed signs of reversal. The Republicans won two more non-metropolitan House seats in the Midwest, while the Democrats cemented their hold along the Pacific coast, winning every House district bordering the ocean, even that of red-state Alaska. But the Republicans picked up some unexpected seats in the metropolitan Mid-Atlantic, particularly in the New York City area, while the Democrats realized a few gains of their own in the Midwest and South.

All these patterns will be explored in later posts. The remainder of this one focuses on the electoral transformation of the north-central region of the country. This area has been trending “red” for some time. Here the Republicans picked up two House seats in 2022 and three in 2020 . But as recently as 2008, a radically different electoral geography appears, as the Democrats then held most of the region’s seats. Even the Dakotas are blue on the 2008 map. The political transformation of this general region can also be seen in recent presidential elections. The next set of maps moves the frame of reference a bit to the east and south to illustrate this electoral transformation. As is readily visible, non-metropolitan areas of Minnesota, Iowa, northern Missouri, Illinois, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have seen a pronounced red shift over the past 30 years. This transformation is particularly notable in Minnesota. In the landslide election of 1984, Minnesota was the only state to opt for Democrat Walter Mondale over Republican Ronald Reagan; in 2020 Donald Trump lost Minnesota, but only by a narrow margin.

In Minnesota’s 2022 midterm election, the Democrats performed well. Democratic Tim Waltz won the gubernatorial election with 52.3 percent of the vote, but more importantly the Democrats established control over both branches of the state legislature. As can be seen on the first map below, the Democratic Party thus established “trifecta” control in Minnesota, just as it did in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the metropolitan/non-metropolitan divide continues to deepen, as can be seen in maps of the Minnesota State House of Representatives. In 2022, the Democrats triumphed here because they dominated the vote in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan region. Peripheral Minnesota, on the other hand, is almost entirely red. Even the mining country of the northeast, historically one of the most solid Democratic strongholds in the country, supported Republican candidates in the 2022 state legislative elections. Contrastingly, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has been moving further in the “blue” direction.


For Minnesota as a whole, the modest blue shift in the 2022 election seems to be closely linked to the pro-Trump stance of several prominent Republican candidates. A argued by Minnesota State Representative Emma Greenman in a MINNPOST article:

From the top of the ticket, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and publicly suggested that Secretary of State Steve Simon should be jailed. The Republican candidate running to be Minnesota’s chief elections officer, Kim Crockett called herself “the election denier in chief” … . In the statewide match-up that put the issue of democracy directly to voters, Secretary of State Steve Simon soundly beat Kim Crockett and won more votes than any other statewide candidate. In Minnesota’s swing legislative districts, DFLer* challengers defeated extremist election deniers, including an incumbent from Circle Pines who is a member of the Oathkeepers, and a St. Peter incumbent who attended and defended the Jan. 6 Storm the Capitol rally in St. Paul.

Similar results were found in other states in which Republican nominees strongly supported Donald Trump and questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, as we shall see in later posts.

* The Minnesota affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party is officially called the “Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party,” or DFL.

Racial and Regional Voting Patterns in Brazil’s 2022 Election

Some clear racial voting patterns are evident in the 2022 Brazilian election. A map of Brazil’s relatively densely populated eastern strip, for example, shows a clear north/south divide. Its northern half is mostly non-white and voted heavily for Lula da Silva, whereas its southern half supported Bolsonaro and has a population of mostly European descent. To be sure, a few exceptions are found, such as the mostly white, Lula-voting area in the extreme southeast. When one looks at maps of Brazil as a whole, however, the situation is revealed to be much more complicated, as it does in maps of individual Brazilian states and regions. The second map posted below indicates the Brazilian states in which Bolsonaro found his highest level of support in 2022. As can be seen, four of these states have mostly non-white populations. All four of them are located in Brazil’s western zone of deforestation and agricultural expansion.

Before digging further into the details, it is important to note that race has been conceptualized differently in Brazil and the United States. In the U.S., a person with any ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa has been conventionally regarded as Black, whereas in Brazil a person with any European ancestry has conventionally been regarded as non-Black – not as “white,” to be sure, but as pardo, or brown. Historically, Brazil encouraged interracial marriage, partly due to the racist hope that it would result in a gradual “whitening” of the population. As a result of these attitudes and practices, Brazil’s Black community is estimated as constituting only around seven percent of the country’s total population. On the detailed map of racial distribution used in this post, hardly any Brazilian municipalities are shown as having a Black plurality, let alone majority. But by the U.S. system of racial classification, the Brazilian population would be reckoned as roughly half Black, with the northeast having a clear Black majority. Brazil also lacks the heritage of overt racial discrimination that characterizes the United States. Still, people with substantial African ancestry tend to be markedly poorer and less educated than people of primarily European ancestry, and they do suffer from stigmatization. But class status can partly override race; as noted in a 2007 scholarly article, “The idea that ‘money whitens’” is a classic topic in the sociological literature on race in Brazil.”

In northeastern Brazil, the poorest part of the country, voting patterns and racial patterns show little correlation. Although the population of northeastern Brazil is mostly non-white, the region does have pockets of mainly Euro-Brazilian settlement. One prominent example is the south-central part of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Income maps show that this region is more prosperous and has less dire poverty than the rest of the state, but is still relatively poor by southeastern Brazilian standards. It is not, however, distinguishable on the 2022 electoral map, as it voted, like neighboring non-white areas, heavily for Lula. Almost all of the districts in northeastern Brazil that supported Bolsonaro in 2022 are in the coastal area of Alagoas, a mostly pardo (or mixed race) area. Deeply entrenched patron-client relationships, in which local elites influence the voting patterns of non-elites, might explain this seemingly anomalous pattern.

The largest number of people classified as “Black” in Brazil are found in Bahia, a large state that covers the southern half of the northeastern region. Bahia as many distinctive cultural features, which have been both celebrated and disparaged in the rest of Brazil. The final post in this GeoCurrents series on the 2022 Brazilian election will look more closely at Bahia.

Voting Patterns in the 2022 Election in Brazil’s Cerrado Region

As noted in a previous post, the deforested areas of Brazil’s Amazon Basin supported the extreme rightwing candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election, whereas the non-deforested areas supported the leftwing candidate Lula da Silva. Somewhat similar patterns are found in the vast Cerrado zone to the south of the Amazonian region.

The seasonally wet and dry Cerrado was mostly covered by savannah vegetation in its original state. It was long considered almost worthless for agriculture, due to its acidic soils and low levels of plant nutrients. Brazilian agricultural scientists at Embrapa, however, learned how to make the Cerrado productive, mostly by adding large quantities of lime and phosphorus to the soil. They also bred new strains of originally temperate crops that would grow well in this tropical environment. Subsequently, clearance of the highly diverse Cerrado vegetation intensified, with much of the region converted to mechanized farmland. As this occurred, Brazil surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest soybean producer. This process has resulted in major economic gains but also in social tensions, heightened economic inequality, and extensive environmental degradation. As little land in the Cerrado has been preserved for nature, it has been called Brazil’s “ugly duckling of conservation.”

As can be seen on one of the maps posted below, much more of the southern and western Cerrado has been transformed into modernized farmland than the northern and eastern part of the region. As might be expected, the main agricultural centers in the western Cerrado voted heavily for Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. The less transformed northeastern Cerrado, contrastingly, voted heavily for Lula in the same election. This environmental/economic/electoral pattern is similar to the one seen in the Amazon.

Economic class is a major factor here. The northeastern part of the Cerrado extends into the poorest part of Brazil (the eastern part of the greater northeast). As Lula was very effective in alleviating poverty and enhancing social development in his earlier terms as president, he retains great popularity in the more impoverished parts of the country. Although some areas in the northeastern Cerrado have become major centers of soybean farming, relatively few people are employed on the mechanized farms and low levels of income remain widespread, as can be seen on the first set of maps posted below. As a result, there is relatively little correlation between voting patterns and agricultural production zones in this part of Brazil, as can be seen on the second set of maps below (the areas outlined in white on the electoral map have Brazil’s highest soybean yields).

The patterns that I am describing here are quite simple and are meant to be taken only in a suggestive sense. Much more detailed work would have to be conducted to make any conclusive statements. I do find it interesting however, that a major area of mechanized soybean agriculture in far western Bahia state in northwestern Brazil voted heavily for Lula de Silva, quite in contrast to the soybean centers in Mato Grosso and other western states. States matter a great deal in Brazil, and Bahia is highly distinctive, noted for having the largest African cultural and demographic imprint in the country. I will explore correlations between racial patterns and voting patterns in the next GeoCurrents post.

(Many thanks to André Goldman for sharing his knowledge of Brazilian political geography and thus helping me write these posts. I will add André’s insightful comments to my earlier Brazilian election posts later this week.)

Amazonian Deforestation, Support for Bolsonaro, and the Roraima Mystery

In the 2022 Brazilian presidential election, the Amazonian region was strikingly divided, as is clearly visible on the Globo map posted below. (I have added an oval and two terms on the map to mark Roraima and the Amazonian region.) Most municipalities (similar to U.S. counties) here strongly supported one candidate or the other. Bolsonaro’s zone of support lies to the south of the Amazon River, but has a distinct northern outlier in the state of Roraima. In contrast, in the large state of Amazonas in the northwest, Lula da Silva received more than 60 percent of the vote in almost every municipality. The main exception was the capital city of Manaus (population 2.2 million), where Bolsonaro took 61 percent of the vote.

The electoral divide in the Amazonian region is easily explained by economic and demographic factors. As noted in a recent Mongabay headline, “Bolsonaro loses election but finds big support in Amazon Arc of Deforestation.” The Amazonian areas won by Bolsonaro have seen extensive forest clearance and now have economies based on agriculture, grazing, and artisanal (and often illegal) mining. As people stream into these areas from other parts of Brazil, pressure for further deforestation grows. As Bolsonaro, unlike Lula, is a champion of forest clearance and mining, his high level of support in these areas is not surprising. As noted by Mongabay writer André Schröder:

Experts don’t see the result as surprising since a large part of the population in this part of the territory doesn’t consider deforestation to be illegal. “Land invaders, loggers, ranchers and gold miners want a full license to occupy the Amazon territory. And Bolsonaro is not against that,” Beto Veríssimo, researcher and co-founder of the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon, told Mongabay by phone. Voters from those municipalities benefit from politicians who promise not to fight illegal activities, according to Veríssimo.



The partially deforested, Bolsonaro-voting zone of the southern Amazon is also characterized by high rates of violent crime, as can be seen on the homicide map posted below. Force is often used here to seize land and settle disputes. In such an environment, many voters support Bolsonaro’s policies that allowed widespread gun ownership. In Brazil as a whole, however, roughly two-thirds of the people oppose these measures.

In the Amazonian heartland state of Amazonas, in contrast, relatively little deforestation has occurred. Here most rural people derive their livelihoods primarily from the natural environment and small-scale horticulture. Such areas strongly supported Lula, who significantly reduced the pace of deforestation when he was president in the early 2000s. As noted in a Guardian article, Amazonian municipalities with large number of indigenous people also voted heavily for Lula, as would be expected.

The Brazilian state that gave the highest percentage of its votes to Bolsonaro (76 percent) is Roraima, located in the northern Amazonian region on the border with Venezuela and Guyana. The natural vegetation of Roraima is a mixture of savannah and rainforest, both of which have seen extensive agricultural conversion. Illegal mining is also widespread – and environmentally destructive. Roraima, the least populated Brazilian state, has seen explosive growth in recent decades, its population rising from 79,000 in 1980 to 631,000 in 2020. As can be seen on the paired maps below, only one municipality in Roraima supported Lula in 2022; not coincidentally, it has an overwhelmingly indigenous population. But the state’s other northern municipalities also have indigenous majorities or pluralities, yet they voted for Bolsonaro.



The electoral victory of Bolsonaro in the indigenous-majority municipalities of northern Roraima is not easily explained. An interesting graphic in The Guardian notes this oddity (posted above) but offers no explanation. A recent Al Jazeera article reports, unsurprisingly, that indigenous leaders in the state see Bolsonaro as a threat and have strongly supported Lula. The article also claims that the indigenous residents of Roraima have not received any benefits from the mining boom. As the author, writing before the election, notes:

If re-elected with enough support in Congress, Bolsonaro could try to push through his long-planned bill to allow mining and other industrial activities on Indigenous lands. As is the case with many Indigenous territories, official requests from companies to mine in Raposa Serra do Sol, including proposals for both gold and diamond mines, have increased since Bolsonaro took office, according to data compiled by the monitoring group Amazonia Minada and seen by Al Jazeera.

“If Bolsonaro is re-elected, we will see a continuation of anti-Indigenous policies,” Antenor Vaz, a former coordinator with Brazil’s Indigenous agency Funai who now works as an independent consultant, told Al Jazeera. “Raposa Serra do Sol would face even more pressure from illegal gold miners, as well as large landowners from outside the reserve.”

 We thus encounter a mystery: why did most voters in heavily indigenous northern Roraima opt for Bolsonaro? Several possibilities come to mind. In Lula’s stronghold of northeastern Brazil, the 2022 election was marked by voter intimidation and suppression. Even the Federal Highway Police, allied with Bolsonaro, tried to delay or prevent people from reaching the polls. Could similar tactics explain the anomalous voting patterns of northern Roraima? I have seen no evidence of this, but my research has been limited. It is also possible that many indigenous people simply did not participate in the election, although Brazil does have compulsory voting.

It does seem that this apparent mystery deserves investigation by someone who knows more about Brazil, and Roraima, than I do.