Attempts to Map Latin America’s Political Spectrum

Latin America Pink Tide MapsThis’s week’s lecture for my class on the history and geography of current global events focused on the crisis in Venezuela, the slides from which are available at the link posted below. I framed this situation in terms of Latin America’s “democratic revolution” of the late 20th century followed by its electoral turn to the left (the so-called pink tide) in the early 21st century. In order to illustrate the latter phenomenon, I searched for maps showing the geographical extent of the “turn to the left” and quickly found a few. Most of these maps depict countries with “left” governments in red and “right” governments in blue; they do so for specific years, as with each national election the distribution of governing parties can easily change. Some of these maps also show the degree of leftward (or rightward) orientation of particular governments by using different shades of color, employing pink, for example, for center-left governments and darker hues of red for farther-left regimes.

Daily Kos Pink Tide MapSuch maps evidently prove confusing for some readers in the United States, who are accustomed to seeing electoral support for the center-left Democratic Party mapped in blue and that for the center-right Republican Party mapped in red. This usage, however, only goes back to 2000, and is generally limited to the U.S. The long-established international convention is to associate the political left with the color red. To translate the mapping of Latin America’s “pink tide” into the idiom of the United States, the website Daily Kos provided two maps in which the color scheme was reversed, proclaiming that the “Pink Tide = Blue Latin America.” The resulting maps are crude and not particularly accurate, but I have posted them here nonetheless.

My main problem with these maps, however, is not their crudity or inaccuracy, but rather that they seem to imply that a country with a far-left government, such as Venezuela, should be conceptualized like a “deep-blu”e U.S. state that generally votes for candidates from the Democratic Party, such as Massachusetts. As a result, I devoted part of my lecture to outlining criticisms of the standard one-dimensional political spectrum based on the left-right distinction. In the slides linked to below, one can find images of the competing “horseshoe” and “matrix” models, the former maintaining that the “ends” of the political spectrum converge, and the latter insisting on a two-dimensional political arena that differentiates social from economic beliefs. Another slides indicates that the manner in which such matters are conceptualized varies significantly from country to country and from region to region.

My own preference is actually that of a complex, multi-dimensional political space that acknowledges the fact that an individual can hold logically consistent beliefs on a great number of particular issues that that fail to mesh with either a one-dimensional spectrum or a two-dimensional matrix. Such a multi-dimensional scheme, however, would be too complicated for general use and too difficult to represent graphically. As a result, we must fall back on simplistic schemes, such as the left-right continuum, while recognizing their limitations.

Latin America Political Spectrum MapWith such considerations in mind, I tried to map the current governments of Latin America along the left-right spectrum. Doing so, however, is anything but easy, as it requires the making of subjective judgments about the political complexions of particular governments. How far to the right, for example, is the government of Paraguay as compared to that of Panama? Both the Panameñista Party that currently governs Panama and the Colorado Party that current governs Paraguay are members of the Union of Latin American Parties, which proclaims its political position to be center-right. Historically, however, the Colorado Party seems to be more conservative in many ways that the Panameñista Party, and hence I have mapped it accordingly. But I am not at all certain about this choice, and I am far from pleased with the map. Please feel free to criticize as you see fit.

Next week’s lecture will examine the current situation in Ukraine and Russia.

Venezuela Slides

The Uncertain Role of Religion in Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election

Indonesia 2014 Election Wikipedia mapThe on-line maps that I have found of Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election are not very helpful. That of the Wikipedia is particularly poor. To begin with, it merely shows which candidate received a majority of votes in each province, with no information provided on the margin of victory. But the returns actually varied quite significantly across the country, with the winning candidate Joko Widodo receiving more than 73 percent of the votes cast in Papua and fewer than 24 percent of those cast in West Sumatra. The color scheme used in the Wikipedia map is also poorly conceived. Crimson?Provincial victories for both candidates are marked in shades of red, although, as the caption notes, a more standard red is used for Joko Widodo, whereas “crimson” is used for Prabowo Subianto. But according to the Wikipedia’s own article on “crimson,” the shade used on the map is actually something different. To be sure, the Wikipedia does differentiate a number of shades of crimson, many of which are associated with college sports teams, but none approximates the color used on the map.

Indonesia 2014 Presidential Election MapDue to such quibbles, I have made my own map of Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, posted here. The map shows relatively weak regional patterning overall, with both candidates taking provinces in most parts of the country. But it also shows reasonable strong voting differentiation by province, as noted above. I have tried, although perhaps not hard enough*, to find explanations for such electoral behavior, albeit without much luck. The patterns on the election map certainly do not Indonesia 2014 Election GDP Mapscorrelate well with those found on the map of GDP per capita, as can be seen in the paired maps (compare, for example, the showings of East Kalimantan and East Nusa Tenggara on the two maps.)

Indonesia 2014 election religion mapsA better, although far from perfect, correlation is found in regard to religion. As can be seen in the second set of juxtaposed maps, Muslim-minority provinces all supported Joko Widodo (Jokowi), several of them quite strongly. But then again, a number of strongly Muslim provinces also cast a high proportion of their votes for Jokowi. It is also noteworthy that Aceh in far northern Sumatra, which is the most resolutely Islamic part of Indonesia, supported the losing candidate Prabowo Subianto by a relatively thin margin.

Unfortunately, the map of religion does not indicate either degrees of religiosity or the prevalence of orthodox interpretations, both of which may also play a role. This issue is particularly significant in regard to Java, the demographic core of the country (of Indonesia’s 252 million inhabitants, 143 million live on Java). Central and Western Java have long been noted for their heterodox interpretations of the faith; until recently, a majority of people here have adhered to a form of worship sometimes called Kebatinan, which is defined by the Wikipedia as a “Javanese religious tradition, consisting of an amalgam of animistic, Buddhist, and Islamic, especially Sufi, beliefs and practices … [that is] rooted in the Javanese history and religiosity, syncretizing aspects of different Java Language Mapreligions.” Although mainstream Islam is spreading in eastern and central Java—the Javanese-speaking portions of the island—this area still remains much less conventionally devout than the Sundanese-speaking area of western Java. In the 2014 election, perhaps not coincidentally, western Java supported Prabowo, whereas the east and especially the center opted instead for Jokowi.

The best report what I have found on the role of religion in the 2014 Indonesian presidential election is found in an Al Jazeera article entitled “Religion the Dark Horse in Indonesia Election.” Published before the election was held, it argued that:

[P]rior to Jokowi’s emergence as a political figure in 2012, when he was elected governor of Jakarta, members of religious minorities tended to support a Prabowo presidency – viewing him as a forceful figure able to crack down on impunity, and noting that his brother and mother are both Christian. Now, he says, Jokowi is the favourite among religious minorities.

“In general, Prabowo has been pandering to Islamist sentiment and Jokowi has been more pluralist in his outlook,” said Gregory Fealy, an Indonesia expert at Australian National University. Accordingly, three of the four Islamist parties that won seats in parliament have joined Prabowo’s coalition; the fourth, the moderate PKB, supports Jokowi.

Prabowo has also been endorsed by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hardline group whose members have been involved in attacks against religious minorities, bars and nightclubs.

Minangkabau MapThis explanation, however, leaves me with two perplexities. First, why would hyper-devout Aceh have given Prabowo such lukewarm support? Could it be that many Acehnese people are chafing under the region’s harsh imposition of Sharia law? More surprising still is the extremely high level of support for Prabowo in West Sumatra. West Sumatra is certainly a Muslim-dominated province, but, like central and eastern Java, it has long been characterized by a rather lax form of their faith, one that historically prioritized customary law (adat) over Sharia. Indeed, the dominant ethno-linguistic group in the province, the Minangkabau, are noted for their matrilineal system of reckoning decent and familial property, a system so engrained that the Minangkabau have been characterized (incorrectly, in my view**) as forming a “modern matriarchy.” As a result, the extremely strong showing of Prabowo in the province seems odd. If any readers have any insights into this issue, I would love to hear them.

*It is currently exam- and paper-grading season, which is taking up most of my time.

** The Wikipedia describes Minangkabau culture as “matrilineal and patriarchal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men.” I do not, however, think that either “matriarchy” or “patriarchy” are appropriate terms in this context.

Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election and the Geography of Heavy Metal Music

Jokowi Napalm DeathWhen lecturing in my course on the History and Geography of Current Global Events, I always begin by showing an enigmatic map or other image and asking if anyone can make sense of it. This week the topic was Indonesia, focusing on the country’s 2014 presidential election (which is admittedly rather old news). I began the class with the image posted to the left, as I wanted to see if anyone could draw a connection between the heavy-metal band Napalm Death and His Excellency Joko Jokowi Napalm Death 2Widodo, the seventh president of Indonesia. No one supplied the answer, which is provided in the next image: Jokowi (as he in called in Indonesia) is a huge fan. He also follows other Metalhead Presidentmetal bands, and he has helped promote metal concerts in his native city, Surakarta (also known as Solo).

Heavy metal music comes in a variety of sub-genres, as I learned in preparing the lecture. That of Napalm Death (“grindcore”) is particularly harsh, at least to my untutored ear, and I must admit to feeling rather astonished that its appeal would extend much beyond angst-ridden teenagers, and especially that it would reach a powerful middle-aged politician such as Joko Widodo. But Jokowi is no ordinary political figure, as he is very much a “man of the people.” More important, metal bands have played a significant role in recent Indonesian history. As Madeleine King explains in a blog post entitled “Live for Satan,” “It may surprise some to learn that heavy metal—a sub-genre of rock music that emerged largely from America and England in the 1970s—was at the heart of Indonesia’s late 1990s pro-democracy movement.” Jokowi was, of course, a much younger man at that time, and it is thus perhaps not so surprising that he would still favor a musical genre associated with the downfall of Indonesia’s authoritarian government.

With all of that in mind, I tried to listen to Napalm Death with a more open mind, but hearing their songs still seemed more like an assault on my ears than a genuine musical experience. (Here I am perhaps merely showing my age, but my 15-year-old daughter agreed.) The growled and grunted vocals were especially off-putting. But the actual lyrics (see the end of the post for one example) are not unintelligent, and here I can begin to see the attraction.

Metal Hand SignsBut the fact that a major fan of Napalm Death could win a presidential election, and do so in predominantly Muslim country, still strikes me as remarkable. I doubt very much that such a candidate could triumph in the United States, as accusations of “Satanism” would fly thick and would likely stick. And indeed, satanic imagery is common across much of the metal world. Some would even say that the hand gesture made by Jokowi in the image posted above indicates the horns of Satan, although here I remain skeptical – and I find the satirical poster of “satanic hand signs” posted here to be quite amusing.

Certainly many Muslim critics, both in Indonesia and elsewhere, have accused metal music of encouraging Satanism. As the abstract to Mark Levine’s “Doing the Devil’s Work: Heavy Metal and the Threat to Public Order in the Muslim World” puts it, his article shows “the largely negative reaction to the music by Muslim governments and societies, and how, in a certain sense, today’s Muslim metalheads are fulfilling a historic function of Satan in Islamic theology.” But as Levine also shows in his book Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, the genre is highly popular among certain youth segments in many Muslim countries, and it often incorporates pro-Islamic overtones. As the author of a recent blog-post frames it, “Today, metal and Islam play a more synergistic role.” The same post also notes that the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land is one of the few institutions in the region able to bridge the gap between Jews and Muslims.

In Indonesia, it would seem that hardline Sunni Muslim stalwarts are currently more interested in countering Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam than they are in taking on heavy metal music, although I would have to do more research here to make any conclusive statements.

Metal Bands MapAlthough heavy metal music may be widespread in the Muslim realm, it is even more popular elsewhere. As the map posted to the left indicates, metal bands are far more numerous in Europe and the Americas. In regard to Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia does occupy a prominent position, although it is surpassed by neighboring Malaysia. According to this somewhat dated map, sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world to have been largely bypassed by the metal phenomenon. It would be interesting to see an updated version, as I would be especially curious to find out if the genre has reached Afghanistan.

Per capita Metal Nands MapIn per capita terms, a different map emerges. Here we can see that the Nordic countries form the core region of metal music, with Finland occupying the top spot. A 2013 BuzzFeed post attempts to explain this intriguing fact through climatic determinism—“The dark winter surely plays a major role in this attachment to suicidal lyrics, double bass drum, and the color black”—but such an explanation does not work for sunnier metal-loving countries, such as Greece. The same BuzzFeed post notes that Finland leads the world in a number of additional categories, most of which seem quite distant from the realm of heavy metal, including education, lack of corruption, and the borrowing of books from libraries. Finland is also the world’s top coffee-consuming country. Perhaps if I had enough caffeine in my system I would be able to appreciate the music of Napalm Death.


Judicial Slime

(by Napalm Death)


Taste me,

You made me what I am,

Mind polluting worthless fuck.


Am I the mental feast,

Bruised and scarred,

The underdog.


A pawn within a losers game,

My strength will grow upon your fear.



In time you’ll face your end line.

Judge me not before yourself.


Take my pride – that’s all you can.

Hatred surges burning me.



For what atonement do you seek,

Your dying grasp of loyalty breaks like brittle bones.


Forgotten past,

I stand condemned,

For I am more powerful than you’d imagine.

Do Swedish-Americans Vote for Democrats? National Origins and Voting Behavior in the United States

Percent Scandinavian US MapIn responding to a recent GeoCurrents post comparing electoral geography in Minnesota and northern California, commentator Barzai makes some important points about ethnicity and national background. As he notes, people of Scandinavian and German descent are a much more significant factor in Minnesota than in California. More importantly, he argues that the concept of a monolithic “White” population is challenged by such differences in national origin.

These are significant points, but the actual patterns of voting behavior and national origin in the U.S. are more complicated than one might think. It is certainly true that people of Scandinavian background are disproportionally concentrated in Democratic-voting Minnesota, as the first map indicates. Some other areas of Scandinavian settlement are also relatively liberal, such as Western Washington. Utah forms an intriguing exception, as it is a highly conservative state with a substantial Scandinavian population, but in this case conversion into the politically conservative Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints) has been a more influential factor. But more serious problems in the linkage between Scandinavian Voting Minnesota MapScandinavian heritage and Democratic-Party-voting are also encountered, First, even in Minnesota the percentage of the population that claims Scandinavian background is not all that high. Second, some of the most Democratic-Party-voting counties in Minnesota and neighboring states do not seem to be heavily Scandinavian. To show this, I have outlined several mostly rural counties in western Minnesota and eastern North and South Dakota that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and that generally swing left in national elections. Yet neither here nor in the generally Democratic-voting areas of southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa, and northwestern Illinois does one find—according to this map—Scandinavian concentrations.

All of this follows, however, only if this map of “Scandinavian-Americans” is reasonably accurate. But it may not be; so much intermarriage has occurred since the wave of northern European migration washed over the Midwest that such numbers are difficult to establish. Individual maps Nordic Americans Mapshowing the concentrations of Swedish-, Norwegian-, and Danish-Americans, derived from 1990 census data show substantially different patterns. (I have also included a map of Finnish-Americans; although Finland is not technically a Scandinavian country, it is a fellow Nordic country.) Here the Swedish map and especially the map showing Norwegian-Americans do show major settlement in many of the more left-voting rural counties of the upper Midwest. But they also show concentrations in more conservative areas, such as North Dakota, western Iowa, and Nebraska, the latter being an especially Republican-oriented place. Danish-Americans actually tend to be concentrated in conservative areas, although again much of this is linked to heavy Danish recruitment by the Mormon Church. Northeastern Minnesota—the most reliably Democratic-voting White, non-metropolitan part of the country—is in contrast heavily Swedish and especially Finnish. But the same ethnic mix is found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which has many habitually Republican-voting counties.

German Americans MapGerman ancestry is much more widespread in the United States than Scandinavian ancestry, as can be seen by comparing the key to the map posted to the left with the keys of the maps posted above. German settlement was pronounced across most areas of the Midwest, but there seem to be few if any correlations between the strength of German settlement and modern voting behavior.

Dutch Americans mapProbably the best example of a linkage between contemporary voting and national background among White Americans pertains to people of Dutch ancestry. Several counties that were heavily settled by the Dutch are still noted for the their strongly conservative political orientations. This is true both in northwestern Iowa and in Western Michigan, two areas that stand out on the map of Dutch ancestry. The more specific factor here, however, is again religion, as these areas are also bulwarks of Dutch Reformed churches, which have in general retained their conservative orientations much more in parts of the United States than in the Netherlands. As the Wikipedia describes Ottawa County, Michigan (the largest city in which is Holland):

The Christian Reformed Church in North America was the biggest Christian denomination in the county with 67 churches and 33, 700 members, followed by the Reformed Church in America with 37 congregations and 33,300 members. …

Ottawa County is a stronghold of the Republican Party. The last Democratic Party candidate to carry the county was George B. McClellan in 1864.

1964 US Presidential Election MapBoth Ottawa County and a cluster of counties in northwestern Iowa clearly stand out on the 1964 U.S. presidential election map. In this pivotal contest, these counties supported the staunchly conservative candidate Barry Goldwater, unlike most other parts of Iowa and Michigan. What I find especially interesting in this map, however, is the fact that a number of counties in northeastern Illinois—which is now a generally Democratic-voting area—also supported Goldwater.

Such patterns obviously call for more research, but I must now move on to other issues.

The Geography of Iowa’s Republican Shift

2012 US Exception Election MapAs mentioned in the previous post, one of the few parts of the United States in which White-majority rural (or small-city-focused) counties regularly vote for Democrats in national elections is the “greater Upper Mississippi Valley,” as outlined on the map posted here. Across the country more generally, non-metropolitan White-majority “blue” countries are found on the Pacific Cost and in the Northeast; elsewhere they can usually be linked to specific occupational or demographic characteristics, such as the presence of major universities (Athens County, Ohio), a historical legacy of unionized mining (Silver Bow County, Montana), or the presence of major outdoor amenities, such as ski resorts (Blaine County, Idaho). But only in a few parts of the Upper Midwest can one find Democratic-voting, White-majority, non-metropolitan countries that do not have these specific characteristics. A major question now is whether the Upper Mississippi Valley will retain its distinctive voting pattern. If the 2014 U.S. senate election in Iowa is any indication, the answer may well be “no.”

Iowa is regarded as a particularly important state in U.S. politics for two reasons. First, it holds the earliest party caucuses, and thus plays an outsized role in selecting the presidential candidates of both parties. Second, it has been something of a “swing state” in recent elections, with relatively close contests between Republican and Democratic candidates. In general, western Iowa tends to the Republican side while eastern Iowa usually support Democrats, a pattern clearly evident on the 2012 presidential election map.

Iowa Politcal Change GraphIn 2014, however, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Iowa, Joni Ernst, shocked political pollsters with her commanding victory over her Democratic opponent, Bruce Braley. As Harry Enten, writing in FiveThirtyEightPolitics, notes:

Republican Sen.-elect Joni Ernst easily won her race in Iowa last Tuesday, beating Democrat Bruce Braley by 8.5 percentage points. Her victory wasn’t shocking, but its size was (to everyone except pollster Ann Selzer, that is). The final FiveThirtyEight projection had Ernst winning by just 1.5 percentage points.

What the heck happened?

Enten attributes this unexpected margin of victory to the fact that Barack Obama’s popularity has dropped more sharply in Iowa than in the rest of the country, which in turn has made Iowa a more Republican-leaning state. His careful statistical analysis shows that one group in particular has been abandoning the Democrats in Iowa. As he explains:

Here’s one explanation: White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party. And if that shift persists, it could have a big effect on the presidential race in 2016, altering the White House math by eliminating the Democratic edge in the electoral college.Iowa 2012 2014 ElectionsThe movement of non-college-educated White voters away from the Democrats is a national phenomenon, but it has been more pronounced in Iowa than elsewhere.

Although Enten does not mention it, gaffes by the Democratic senatorial candidate Braley probably played a significant role. Braley’s comments at an out-of-state fundraising event attended mostly by lawyers attracted considerable attention in the state:

[I]f you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because, if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As conservative blogger Erick Erickson noted, such comments were “colossally stupid,” especially when one considers how important agriculture is to the state of Iowa. Insulting the state’s farmers is not a good ploy.

Iowa 2014 Election Population MapAs it turns out, only a handful of truly rural counties in Iowa supported Bruce Braley in the 2014 election. As the map that I have annotated indicates, most of the counties that he won are dominated by small or mid-sized cities. To be sure, counties with such demographic characteristics elsewhere in the Midwest generally vote Republican, showing that there is still something of an “Upper Mississippi Valley Exception.” But when it comes to the more purely agricultural counties, Braley had little success. It would be interesting to examine the remaining exceptions, such as “still-blue” Howard County in the northeast, which saw its population peak at 13,705 in 1920 and which is 99.06 percent White. (Howard County happens to be the birthplace and childhood-home of Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, often deemed the founder of the Green Revolution.) Note as well that the more urban counties of western Iowa remain in the Republican camp. More surprising was the Republican win in Scott County (centered on Davenport), as it is the Iowa’s third-most populous county and is located in the extreme east along the Mississippi River.

Iowa 2008 2014 Senate ElectionsIt is instructive to contrast the 2014 Iowa senatorial election with that of 2008. In the earlier election, Tom Harkin, one of the more left-leaning members of the U.S. senate, won an overwhelming victory, taking all but five counties. Harkin was helped by the fact that 2008 was a highly favorable year for Democrats and was further boosted by the gaffes of his opponent. As noted in the Wikipedia:

On October 23, [Republican candidate Christopher] Reed and Senator Harkin met for a debate on Iowa Public Television. During the debate, Reed made personal attacks on Harkin, accusing him of being the “Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaeda and Middle East terrorism” and calling him “anti-American” and alleging that he provided “aid and comfort to the enemy” in a speech calling for the closure of the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After the debate, both Harkin and moderator David Yepsen chastised Reed for the attacks. Yepsen said that he had “never heard a candidate make that kind of serious charge about his opponent.”

In the 2014 Campaign, Republican candidate Joni Ernst made several comments that the Democrats hoped would cost her votes. These included, as noted in the Washington Post, her claims that “we have created ‘a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them,’ and that wrenching them away from their dependence ‘is going to be very painful.’” Evidently such statements had little effect. On the other hand, Ernst might have gained votes by her most widely quoted comment: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”


Minnesota and Northern California: Political Twins or Political Opposites?

CA and MN elections compared mapTwo U.S. states that largely bucked the Republican trend in the 2014 election were Minnesota and California, which count among the “bluest” states in the union. Since 1976, only Minnesota has supported the Democratic candidate in every presidential election. California has more recently entered the Democratic fold, having voted for a Republican presidential candidate as recently as 1988, but in recent years it has been a reliably blue state. In the 2014 election, California gave a higher percentage of its vote (59) to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate than any other state. In Minnesota, by contrast, the winning Democrat received only 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the 44.5 percent received by his Republican opponent. Minnesota also elected a primarily Republican delegation to its state House of Representatives (72 Republicans to 62 Democrats) in 2014, whereas the incoming lower house of California’s state legislature has a 52 to 28 Democratic edge. California thus currently stands as the “bluer” or these two blue states, a standing also reflected in the 2012 Presidential election, in which Barack Obama took 60 percent of California’s vote as opposed to 53 percent of Minnesota’s.

Minnesota Voting and Popuation Density MapBut if California and Minnesota are both Democratic bastions, their actual patterns of electoral geography are quite distinctive. To illustrate these differences, I have prepared several maps contrasting the 2014 election results in Minnesota with those in northern California. I have focused on northern California rather than the state as a whole for three reasons. First, northern California (as I have defined it here) and Minnesota are of roughly equal size, making cartographic comparison relatively simple. Second, several southern Californian counties are so large, in both area and population, that they undermine simple comparisons using county-level maps. Third, the geographical contrast with Minnesota that I want to emphasize is more pronounced in regard to northern California than to southern California.

Northern California Voting and Population Density MapThe major difference in voting behavior between Minnesota and northern California centers on population density and proximity to major metropolitan areas. In both places, counties containing large cities strongly supported candidates from the Democratic Party. That, however, is where the similarity ends. In northern California, the suburban counties that ring San Francisco Bay also voted for democratic candidates, and many of them did so quite heavily. Northern California’s inner suburbs tend to be deep blue, while the outer suburbs and exurban fringe are at least light blue. Contrastingly, in Minnesota the outer suburban belt that surrounds the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul tends to vote for Republican candidates, often quite strongly. Indeed, one of the most conservative members of Congress, Michelle Bachmann, represents the northern suburbs of “the cities.” Bachmann did not run in 2014, but her Republican successor easily coasted to victory.

The contrast between the Minnesota and northern California also extends to rural counties. In northern California, largely rural counties tend to vote for Republican candidates. The main exception is the north coast, where lightly populated Mendocino and Humboldt counties are noted for their strong counter-cultural elements (they form the bulk of the so-called Emerald Triangle of widespread Cannabis cultivation). In contrast, many rural Minnesota counties still generally vote for Democrats, as is clearly evident on the map of the 2014 U.S. Senate election. This pattern holds both for agricultural counties in the west and south and for the mining/logging region of the northeast (which also includes the minor industrial/port city of Duluth). On the map of U.S. House of Representative delegations, California thus exhibits something of a classical “core/periphery” pattern (with a blue “core” and a red periphery), whereas in Minnesota one finds instead a core/semi-periphery/periphery pattern (with blue yielding to red and then to blue again as one leaves the metropolitan center).

1060 Minnesota N. California election mapMinnesota’s electoral pattern is the older of the two. Consider, for example, the 1960 presidential election, in which the Democrat, Jack Kennedy, narrowly beat the Republican, Richard Nixon. In the 1960 presidential contest in California, Kennedy won San Francisco as well as the (at the time) industrial East Bay counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, yet lost the suburban West Bay counties (Marin, San Mateo). Kennedy also took a majority of northern California’s rural counties, especially those in the sparsely populated far north. But by the end of the 20th century, northern California’s electoral geography had shifted, with the rural counties trending strongly Republican and the suburban counties trending clearly Democratic. The same transformation occurred in the northeastern U.S. states. In the south and much of the Midwest, however, suburban countries have stayed Republican, while White-majority rural areas have either remained or switched into the Republican camp. Minnesota is unusual in that many of its White-dominated rural counties continue to vote for Democrats. The 1960 presidential and the 2014 gubernatorial maps of Minnesota show remarkably similar patterns. One difference between them is a shift to more Democratic voting in the mostly rural southeastern corner of the state. Hennepin County, which contains Minneapolis, has also, much less surprisingly, moved in the same direction. Contrastingly, Republican voting has intensified in the countries that encircle the Twin Cities.

Minnesota 1960 2014 Election MapMinnesota’s distinctive voting behavior might be linked in part to its distinctive left-leaning political party: its state-level affiliate of the United States Democratic Party is actually the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), which was created in 1944 by a merger of the populist, democratic-socialist Farmer-Labor Party with the Democratic Party. This legacy may be responsible for some of the DFL’s continuing clout in rural areas. Additional factors, however, are no doubt also in play.

Minnesota 2014 State House MapAcross the United States, White-dominated rural counties have been gradually moving into the Republican category. This process has played out at different times in different places. Much of Appalachia has only recently made this transition, which has turned West Virginia from a solidly blue to a solidly red state over the past 20 years. The one part of the country in which many White-dominated rural counties still tend to support Democrats is the Upper Mississippi region, anchored by Minnesota but also including parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Will these areas as well turn red in coming elections? Even in Minnesota, the Republican Party is gaining ground in such places, as can be seen in the map of Minnesota’s State House of Representatives 2014 election. And in the 2014 senatorial election in neighboring Iowa, this pattern was much more pronounced, as will be examined in the next GeoCurrents post.


U.S. Political Party Strength Index Map

US Political Party Strength Index MapAs yesterday’s post noted, the United States moved decidedly in the direction of the Republican Party in the November 2014 election. To illustrate the relative strength of the Republican Party at the state level, I have created a “US Party Strength Index Map,” posted here. The methodology is simple. Taking into account the recent election, I awarded one point for each party in each state for each of the following categories: 2012 Presidential Election, Senior Senator, Junior Senator, House Delegation, Governor, State Senate, and State House. Thus New Hampshire counts as “evenly divided” because the Democratic candidate (Obama) won the state in the 2012 Presidential election, the state’s governor is a Democrat, the state’s senior US Senator is a Democrat, and the Democrats control half (one of two) of the state’s delegation to the House of Representatives. Adding these figures together gives New Hampshire a “Democratic score” of 3.5, which is identical to the state’s “Republican Score,” which is derived from the Republican control of the state’s upper legislative body, the Republican control of the state’s lower legislative body, the state’s Republican junior Senator, and the one-half control of the state’s House delegation by the Republican Party. As noted on the map, some difficulties are encountered, such as the unicameral, non-partisan Nebraska State legislature. This feature makes Nebraska appear less Republican than it would in other measurement schemes.

The information used to make this map is found in a table in a Wikipedia article on “Political Party Strength in U.S. States.” This table includes another category, labeled “demographic,” that is based largely on party affiliation. I have ignored this information because it does not necessarily represent current conditions. In West Virginia, for example, the Democratic Party has a substantial advantage over the Republican Party in terms of voter registration, and a generation ago West Virginia was among the most reliable states for the Democratic Party. But despite formal party affiliation, West Virginians now favor Republican candidates, a tendency that has been strengthening over the past several election cycles.

The map indicates that the Democratic Party was two regional strongholds: the Pacific Coast and zone centered on southwestern New England, New York, and the coastal mid-Atlantic belt. The Great Lakes region, often regarded as part of “blue America,” appear here as a mixed zone with a slight Republican edge.


Does the Red-State/Blue-State Model of U.S. Electoral Politics Still Work?

Red States Blue StatesSince the 2000 election, it has been common to divide the United States into a “Red America” of reliably Republican-voting states and a “Blue America” of reliably Democratic-voting states, a maneuver that highlights the relative scarcity of “purple” or swing states. As can be seen in the Wikipedia map posted to the left, “blue” states are concentrated in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, with New Mexico forming something of a blue outlier.

This red-state/blue-state model has been subjected to much criticism. To begin with, it reverses the color scheme used more widely across the world, in which red signifies the left and blue the right. This system is still used in Dave Leip’s excellent on-line Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, but it now proves highly confusing for most Americans. But deeper problems are also encountered. Perhaps most significant is the fact that there are many “red” areas in most “blue” states, just as there are quite a few “blue” zones in most “red” states, as can be seen in maps based on county-level data. Such maps, however, exaggerate the extent of “Red America,” as Democratic-voting areas tend to be more densely populated than Republican-voting ones. Equally problematic is the fact that many areas are roughly split between the two major parties, and should thus be mapped as purple.

2012 US Election CartogramSuch problems are surmounted to some degree in red-purple-blue cartograms, such as the one posted here of the 2012 presidential election. This map, however, has caused a minor controversy in my own household, as I find it gorgeous and informative while my wife considers it hideous and confusing. Some experts in color perception also object to red-purple-blue maps, contending that we Larry Weru's 2012 Election Mapperceive purple differently if it is surrounded with blue than if it is surrounded by red. Larry Weru thus adds green to the mixture, and ends up with a blue-gray-red map that more clearly shows counties in which presidential elections are competitive.

114th Senate mapBut regardless of such consideration, the maps of the 2014 U.S. election clearly reveal a major “red-shift” in voting behavior. Intriguingly, this shift is least evident on the map of the incoming U.S. Senate. Despite the fact that the Republicans picked up several seats and now command a clear majority in the Senate, the basic red-blue regional pattern still holds on this map, albeit with an expanded “purple” zone of mixed representation. But on the map of the incoming 114th House MapHouse of Representatives, much of the supposedly “blue” mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions appear rather as a sea of red, with only major cities voting for Democrats. Outside of New England the Pacific Coast, few non-metropolitan districts without Hispanic or African-American majorities supported Democratic candidates. Most of those that did are located in the Upper Mississippi region, centered on Minnesota, as will be examined in a subsequent post.

2015 US Governors MapIn the gubernatorial and state legislative election of 2014, somewhat different patterns are encountered. Overall, the “red shift” was pronounced here as well, with the Republicans picking up several state governors and legislative 2014 Governors Election maphouses. (In Illinois, generally regarded as a solidly “blue” state, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won only a single county, although it [Cook] is the second most heavily populated county in the country.) But when it comes to such non-national elections, US States Legislatures Election MapRepublicans can be more competitive in “blue” states just as Democrats can be more competitive in “red” states, as they can run on platforms to the left and right, respectively, of their national parties. Thus a Republican champion of gay marriage can win the gubernatorial race in deep-blue Massachusetts, while such Republican states as Missouri and Kentucky still have Democratic governors (who, admittedly, were not up for reelection in 2014).

With the rightward swing of the 2014 election, very few U.S. states are now dominated by the Democratic Party at both the national and local levels. Only four small states—Connecticut, Democrats Vote 2014 Governors MapDelaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii—remain “fully blue,” meaning that all their senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as their governors, are Democrats, and that the Democratic Party also controls both of their state legislative chambers. (Vermont also fits into this category in an informal sense, as its independent senator Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist.) California and Oregon almost fit the pattern as well, but in both cases their conservative eastern areas have voted for Republicans for the House of Representatives. And as the final map indicates, even in some of these reliably blue states (Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island), the Democratic gubernatorial candidates won with thin margins.

Although the 2016 election could produce very different patterns, the United States must be currently viewed as a mostly “red and purple” land.

Gerrymandering in the United States: Crimes Against Geography?

(Note: The next several GeoCurrents posts will examine the 2014 U.S. Midterm Elections)

Goofy Kicking Donald DuckIn my large lecture course on the History and Geography of Current Global Events, I always begin by showing an enigmatic or amusing map with the labels removed. I then ask the class what it represents. Recent examples include a map of the range of fruit bats (for a lecture on Ebola) and cartogram of Brazil 2010 election (for a lecture on Brazil’s 2014 election). Next Tuesday’s lecture will begin with the image posted to the left. The answer this time is obvious, provided in the form of Pennsylvania 7th Congressional Districta one-question quiz: “d. Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District.” The other possible answers derive from a contest run by the Washington Post to name the oddly shaped districts. The winner was “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck,” while the other choices on my quiz were among the contest’s “honorable mentions.”

Pennsylvania’s 7th is by no means the only severely gerrymandered congressional district in the United States. A fascinating Wonkblog post by Christopher Ingraham from May 15, 2014 aptly describes a number of these districts as “crimes against geography.” Ingraham nicely Gerrymandered Districtsexplains the rationale and mechanics of the process. As he notes:

Contrary to one popular misconception about the practice, the point of gerrymandering isn’t to draw yourself a collection of overwhelmingly safe seats. Rather, it’s to give your opponents a small number of safe seats, while drawing yourself a larger number of seats that are not quite as safe, but that you can expect to win comfortably.

Ingraham also shows that a majority of the heavily gerrymandered districts were drawn by Republicans eager to enhance their own electoral advantages. But he also demonstrates that that process is encountered on both side of the political divide. As he goes on to write:

Maryland and North Carolina are home to some of the ugliest districts in the nation among states with at least three Congressional districts. In fact, North Carolina is home to three out of the top 10 most-gerrymandered districts in the country. Maryland is proof that gerrymandering isn’t just a Republican pastime, as the state’s Democrats redrew those boundaries in 2012. The standout in that state is the 3rd Congressional district, which is the nation’s second-most gerrymandered and home to Democratic congressman John Sarbanes.

Gerrymandering Index MapIngraham’s most significant contribution is his measuring and mapping of the extent of gerrymandering, a feat that has been previously performed (see here and here), but probably not quite so successfully. As his map shows, some states are far more gerrymandered than others. The least manipulated congressional districts are found in both Republican states (Indiana, Kansas) and Democratic ones (New Mexico), as well as in swing states (Iowa). As Ingraham further notes, “Gerrymandering is easier to get away with in more densely-populated areas,” most of which lean in the direction of the Democratic Party. (States depicted in gray have only one congressional district, and hence cannot be gerrymandered.)

Only a few of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts stand out on the map of the 2014 midterm election. They are difficult to see in part because the map is so dominated by red, reflecting in part Republican success in recent elections and in part the pronounced clustering of Democratic US 2014 House Votevoters in densely populated urban and inner suburban areas. But in North Carolina, which has North Carolina Gerrymanderingrecently become a crucial “purple” state hotly contested by the two major parties, the effects of gerrymandering are clearly evident. To illustrate this, I have juxtaposed a map of North Carolina’s vote in the 2012 Presidential Election organized by congressional districts with a map based on the same data but organized by counties. The difference is striking.

North_Carolina_US_Congressional_District_12_(since_2013).tifIngraham contends that North Carolina’s 12 Congressional District is the country’s most severely gerrymandered. Yet it is evidently not as aberrant in shape as it once was. As noted in the Wikipedia:

It was drawn in 1992 as one of two black majority (minority-majority) districts, designed to give blacks (who comprised 22% of the state’s population at the time) the chance to elect a representative of their choice. In its original configuration, it was a 64 percent black-majority district stretching from Gastonia to Durham. It was very long and so thin at some points that it was no wider than a highway lane, as it followed Interstate 85 almost exactly.

It was criticized as a racially gerrymandered district. For instance, the Wall Street Journal called the district “political pornography.” The United States Supreme Court ruled in Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993) that a racial gerrymander may, in some circumstances, violate the Equal Protection Clause. The state legislature had defended the two districts as based on demographics, with the 12th representing the interior Piedmont area and the 1st the Coastal Plain. Subsequently, the district was redrawn several times and was adjudicated in the Supreme Court on two additional occasions. The version created after the 2000 census was approved by the US Supreme Court in Hunt v. Cromartie. The current version dates from the 2010 census; like the 2003-2013 version, it has a small plurality of whites, though blacks make up a large majority of registered voters. In all of its configurations, it has been a Democratic stronghold dominated by black voters in Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad.


Brazil’s Soy Empire: Mato Grosso in the 2014 Election

(Note: This post completes a brief series on Brazil’s 2014 Election. This series has benefitted tremendously from the informed and insightful comments by Frederico Freitas, Ygor Coelho Soares, and Steve. Many thanks!)

Brazil 2014 election  map districtsIn the electoral map of Brazil’s 2014 election, the vast but relatively lightly populated state of Mato Grosso in the center-west stands out for the strong support that most of its districts gave to the defeated challenger Aécio Neves. Although the triumphant incumbent Dilma Rousseff won handily in a limited area of south-central Matto Gross, most of the rest of the state strongly favored Neves. Yet Mato Grosso does not fit the general profile of areas that rejected Rousseff in favor of Neves. It has historically been a mid-income state, much less prosperous than the core areas of Neves support in the southeast. It is also unlike southern Brazil in having a non-white majority. According to the Wikipedia:

The last PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles) census revealed the following numbers [for Mato Grosso]: 1,532,000 Brown (Mixed) people (50.92%), 1,179,000 White people (39.16%), 239,000 Black people (7.93%), 41,000 Amerindian people (1.37%), 14,000 Asian people (0.45%)

Cerrado agriculture mapBut Mato Grosso has been changing rapidly in recent years, with both its population and its economy surging ahead. The Wikipedia table of Brazilian per capita GDP by state places Mato Grosso in the eighth position, between Parana and Minas Gerais— and it is seven years out-of-date. One of the main reasons for the state’s rapid economic growth is the boom in soy farming. Only a few decades ago, most of Matto Grosso was considered almost worthless for agriculture, due to the poverty of its soils. But researchers at Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), a state-owned firm connected with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, developed effective methods Leading Soy Producersof enhancing soil fertility and bred new crop varieties adapted to local conditions. Such efforts were particularly successful in the Cerrado, Brazil’s central savannah region that covers much of southern and eastern Mato Grosso. The result has been an extraordinary agricultural surge that has allowed Brazil to Brazil Soy Mapovertake the United States as the world’s top soy producer. Farming in Mato Grosso tends to be highly mechanized and chemically intensive. Many of the large-scale famers of the region hail from southern Brazil, particularly Rio Grande do Sol.

Mato Grosso agriculture elcetion mapIntrigued by the possible connection between agricultural expansion and voting behavior in Mato Grosso, I juxtaposed an Italian land-use map of with a map of the recent election returns. Comparing these two maps, some degree of correlation is apparent, although it is by no means perfect. Many of the main soy-farming areas voted heavily for Neves. Support for Rousseff, on the other hand, was concentrated in the lightly populated Pantanal of the south-center (arguably the world’s largest wetland) which is used mainly for low-intensity cattle grazing along with with some eco-tourism. The main Rousseff-voting zone also wraps around the state’s urbanized core of Cuiabá and neighboring towns, although the cities themselves seem to have narrowly favored Neves. The paired maps also show the densely forested and sparsely settled northern swath of Matto Grosso as Satellite Image Northwest Mato Grossohaving split its vote between the two candidates. Google Earth imagery, however, indicates that sizable areas here have recently been cleared for agriculture. A comparison of the Google Earth image posted here of northwestern Mato Grosso with the electoral map indicates that the correlation still generally holds; agricultural areas tended to support Neves.

Brazil Parks MapThe largest contiguous zone of forest and other forms of natural vegetation in Mato Grosso is found along the upper reaches of the Xingu River and its tributaries in the northeastern portion of the state. Most of this region is protected as part of Xingu National Park, which was established in 1961 to preserve both the natural environment and the region’s indigenous peoples. At the time, this region was widely viewed as one of the most remote and under-unexplored parts of the world. When Satellite Image Xingu National ParkI was an adolescent, I was given a book entitled Mato Grosso, Last Virgin Land. I found it enthralling, and the name “Mato Grosso” came to signify in my mind both the forest primeval and the most inaccessible place on Earth. Today, the upper Xingu no longer seems so remote. Not surprisingly, the park and the larger river system now face a number of threats.

According to a recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund, Brazil made major progress in preserving wild lands and indigenous peoples under the governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), but relatively little under that of Dilma Rousseff (2010-). The report also credits most of the gains under Lula da Silva to his former environmental minister, Marina Silva. For a while, Marina Silva looked like she might have a chance to win the presidency this year, but she was soundly defeated in the first round of the election.

Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is interrupting its short series on the cartography of Michael Izady to examine the recent presidential election in Brazil. Note that on the maps posted below, the international norm of using red to indicate the left and blue to indicate the right is followed.)

Brazil 2014 Election Map StatesIt has been widely noted that Brazil 2014 presidential election revels a deep north/south divide, with southern Brazil voting strongly for the centrist (or center-right*) candidate Aécio Neves and northern Brazil voting even more heavily for the center-left (or leftist*) incumbent Dilma Rousseff. From one perspective, the north/south division is even stronger than it might appear on first glance, as the crucially important state of Minas Gerais, the second most populous in the country, was itself split, with most of its south supporting Neves and its north voting for Rousseff. Overall, this longitudinal electoral Minsas Gerais 2014 Election mapdivide reflects Brazil’s profound economic division, with the relatively prosperous south supporting the business-oriented candidate (Neves) and the much Brazil 2014 Election GDP 1poorer north supporting the redistribution-oriented candidate (Rousseff), an inversion of the general pattern found in the United States. Again, this same divide is apparent in Minas Gerais, where the south-central area is relatively well-off, while the north and especially the northeast is, according to the Wikipedia, “marked by poverty.” At the state level, the main exception to the north-south split is the relatively prosperous southern state of Rio de Janeiro, which supported Dilma Rousseff. The exceptional far northern state of Roraima, which went for Aécio Neves, is much less significant, as it is sparsely populated.

Brazil 2014 election  map districtsThe district-level electoral map, however, reveals that many local areas in the south supported Rousseff and that a few in the north supported Neves. But again, economic correlates are found in most instances. This pattern is especially notable in the far southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the less prosperous areas of the south and west generally voted for Rousseff while the more prosperous northeast supported Neves. Notably, Rio Grande do Sul as a whole favored Rousseff in Brazil 2014 election map round 1the first round of the election, when the nominally Socialist (but actually politically centrist) candidate Marina Silva took over 21 percent of the vote nationwide. Overall, I find the Brazilian connection between voting behavior and median income striking, although Brazil 2014 Election map incomethere are certainly exceptions. Consider, for example, Acre in the northwest, a poor state that nonetheless strongly supported Neves. Note, however, that most areas in the poorer eastern half of the state voted for Rousseff. (It is also significant that Acre is the home state of Marina Silva, who threw her support to Neves in the second round after having been subjected to extremely negative campaigning by Rousseff in the first round.)

The other pattern that strikes my eye on the district-level map is the overwhelming support received by Neves in Brazil’s demographic and economic core state, São Paulo, which contains almost a quarter of Brazil’s total population. Almost all parts of São Paulo state supported Neves, with most areas giving him more than 65 percent of the vote. The more southerly state of Santa Catarina, however, gave an even higher percentage of its overall votes to Neves. Santa Catarina is the fourth wealthiest first-order division of Brazil on the basis of per capita GDP, following only the Federal District (Brasília), São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. It is also arguably the most “European” part of Brazil in regard to the origin of its inhabitants, as large numbers of Germans, Italians, Poles, and Russians settled Santa Catarina in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Brazil 1994 election mapPerhaps the most interesting aspect of Brazil’s electoral divide is its recent emergence. The country has long been characterized by a profound north/south economic and social-developmental division, but in earlier elections it did not play a major role. In 1994, for example, the leftist candidate Lula da Silva won only the southernmost state (Rio Grande Do Sol) as well as the Federal District, whereas in 2002 Lula lost only Alagoas in the impoverished northeast. In the 2002 Brazil 2002 election mapelection, Lula actually took a higher percentage of votes in Santa Catarina than he did in many northeastern states. Lula’s successful social developmental programs, however, eventually gained his party massive support over most of the northeast and the rest of the north as well.

I suspect that Brazil’s recently developed north/south electoral divide will prove to be rather enduring. It will be interesting to see what future elections bring.

The 2014 electoral returns from the large western state of Mato Grosso are also intriguing, as will be explored in the next post.

* I hesitate to use the one-dimensional left/right political spectrum, which I find it absurdly crude, but it is too deeply ingrained in the public imagination to be ignored. But it essential to note that the “left” candidate in this election, Dilma Rousseff, is relatively conservative on most social issues, opposing, for example, gay marriage and abortion in most cases. In the Brazilian context, the left/right split is mostly focused on economic issues.

Religion, Caste, and Electoral Geography in the Indian State of Kerala

Christianity in Kerala MapAs mentioned in a previous GeoCurrents post, India’s southwestern state of Kerala, noted for its high levels of social development, exhibited markedly different patterns in the 2014 election from most other parts of the country. In Kerala, parties on the far left did quite well, as did the center-left Indian National Congress, whereas the center-right BJP performed quite poorly, as did regionalist parties. To understand the electoral geography of Kerala, it is necessary to examine religion and caste. A fascinating paper by Regina Doss, a student in a Stanford University Continuing Studies (adult education) class that Asya Pereltsvaig and I are currently teaching, recently brought these issues to my attention. As she notes, the Congress Party and its allies have traditionally found most of their support among the Syrian Christians and the Nairs (the latter being a relatively high Hindu caste, traditionally noted as warriors and landholders). Little changed in the 2014 election, despite concerted efforts by the BJP. As Regina Doss writes:

During elections the Christians are heavily courted. There had been a lot of news about the national Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wooing the Christians in Kerala for the 2014 elections. Narender Modi (BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate) shared the platform in September 2013 with Mar Thoma Syrian Church Metropolitan Philipose Mar Chrysostom when he attended the birthday celebration in Kerala of Mata Amritananandamayi, the hugging Hindu female guru, who has a global following. The influential Syrian Christian clergy that usually sides with the Indian National Congress has been making generous statements about Narender Modi. BJP [however] has yet to win a seat in Kerala.

Syrian Christian Population Kerala MapIn order to elucidate the relationship in Kerala between religious and caste groups, on the on hand, and voting behavior, on the other, I have prepared a series of maps showing the distribution of the state’s leading social groups, which can be compared with maps depicting election returns (posted below). Firm conclusions are admittedly difficult to draw from these maps, as most of these social groups are widely distributed and complexly interspersed, and hence the following analysis should be viewed as merely suggestive. In constructing these maps, I have used data found in the Wikipedia article “Religion in Kerala,” which in turn is derived from the book Dynamics of Migration in Kerala: Dimensions, Differentials, and Consequences,by Kunniparampil Curien Zachariah, Elangikal Thomas Mathew, Sebastian Irudaya Rajan (Orient Longman, 2003). Unfortunately, this information is somewhat dated, as it comes from a 1998 survey. Since that period, the Muslim population has increased relatively to the Christian and Hindu populations, due largely to a higher birthrate. It should also be noted that different sources of information provide different figures on religious adherence. A map of Christianity in Kerala posted above that Regina Doss created for her class project, using information from the 2001 census of India, shows significantly lower proportions of Christians in many districts of Kerala than do the maps that I have made. But despite these data inconsistencies, the basic geographical patterns remain relatively consistent.

Ezhavas Population Kerala MapOne pattern found on these maps is a vague association between the Ezhavas, members of a low Hindu caste, and electoral support for the far left, visible particularly in regard to Kannur district in the north. This pattern is of long-standing, persisting despite efforts since the late 1990s by the BJP to court this group as well. The Ezhavas are an unusual community in that they have historically been considered Dalits (outcastes or “untouchables”) even though their economic position has more closely resembled that of the Sudras (the largest, and lowest, of the four varna orders of Hindu society). As George Woodcock explains in his fascinating 1967 book Kerala: A Portrait of the Malabar Coast (Faber and Faber, London):

The Ezhavas, the most numerous of all the Hindu groups in Kerala, are also the most puzzling of its peoples. Subdues by centuries by the Brahmins and the Nairs, regarded as outside the four-fold caste system, they nevertheless retained a pride even in their position as the leading caste of the outcastes, and during the nineteenth century developed a great will to rise above the limitations which society had laid upon them … . The Ezhavas sought education, even established their own schools… . Fortunate Ezhavas took to business and the Congress Party: unfortunate ones to radical rebellion, for the poor Ezhavas have long formed the dedicated core of the Communist Party in Kerala.  … No group anywhere in India has so successfully, by its own efforts, removed itself from the double stigma of untouchability and ex-untouchability (pp. 62,63).

Scheduled Castes Tribes Kerala MapKerala’s more marginal groups have also tended to support the far left. The Revolutionary Socialist Party is strongest in the southern district of Kollam, where its support is concentrated among fishing communities that are generally placed in the low “scheduled caste” category. In mountainous eastern Kerala, members of Latin Christian Population Kerala Mapscheduled castes and scheduled tribes are also numerous, and some of these areas also tend to support the far left. Latin Christians, quite unlike Syrian Christians, also tend to be associated with a low social position, but the areas in which they are concentrated do not seem to be very electorally distinctive.

Several other intriguing patterns are also evident. Support for the regionalist Kerala Congress Party is strongest in Kottayam, which is often considered the heartland of the Syrian Christian Community. The Wikipedia article on the party contends that it is dominated by Syrian Christian farmers, although it also notes that “leaders from all communities are represented.” In regard to Muslim Population Kerala Mapthe Muslim population, the correlation between geographical distribution and support for the Indian Union Muslim League is clear, although it must be noted that a number of heavily Muslim areas have supported other parties.

Nair Population Kerala MapIn regard to the Nairs, the situation seems to be more complicated. A 2012 blog post on the topic by a “Progressive Hindu Nair” has some interesting observations.  As the author notes:

While the Congress lead front’s support used to come from Christians, Nairs and Muslim population, Left front’s support base was a group consisting of Ezhavas and scheduled castes. A section of economically backward Nairs and Christians also used to support Marxists. Muslim support to left groups has always been minimal generally. Though this is the basic truth, it should be forgotten that the leadership of CPI (M) and its parliamentary face was constituted by upper caste Hindus (Mostly Nairs) the policies of the party were pro-minority and backward community; a complex situation indeed.

Till 1990’s Nairs constituted a major chunk of leadership both in Congress and CPI (M). In a way it had helped Nair community in the sense that Nair leaders often helped many individuals belonging to nair community. But they did not help community as a whole. It should also be noted that individuals of Nair community got help not because of any deliberate strategy of Nair leaders. The leaders helped their acquaintances and friends among whom naturally there were a lot of Nairs and indirectly Nairs have benefited.

Kerala 2014 2019 elections map Yes, a complex situation indeed, which is one reason why Kerala is such a Kerala 2014 Election Mapfascinating and important place. What I find particularly interesting is the combination of high social development and the historical legacy of extreme caste divisions. In earlier times, Kerala not only had “untouchables” but also “unseeables,” unfortunate individuals who were supposed to ring bells as they walked so that members of higher social orders could avoid the visual pollution that came from looking at them.

The 2014 Indian Election in Kerala and Bihar

Kerala 2014 Election MapOn the 2014 electoral map of India, two states stand out due to their division among many competing parties: Bihar in lower Ganges Valley and Kerala in the southwest. Intriguingly, these states represent the extremes of Indian social development. Bihar has long been noted as the poorest, least educated and most corrupt state in India, although it has made considerable—and surprising—progress in recent years. Kerala, on the other, stands at the top of the charts in terms of health, longevity, and education, although its economy has lagged a bit behind, and several other southern and western states are beginning to catch up on the social front.

In the 2014 election, the similarity between Kerala and Bihar is relatively superficial, not extending beyond geographical fragmentation. In Kerala, regional parties played a minor role; the state’s main distinction is that of being a stronghold minor national parties. The nationally triumphant BJP performed quite poorly in Kerala, taking only ten percent of the vote, while the Indian National Congress (INC) did much better than in most other parts of India, taking over 31 percent of the vote. In Bihar, on the other hand, the BJP overwhelmed Congress, 29.4 percent to 8.4 percent, with most of the rest of the vote going to regionalist parties.

Kerala 2014 Election TableIn Kerala, the election essentially pitted the center-left (Congress) against the far left. Much in contrast to most of the rest of the country, conservative parties took few votes in the state. Such results are typical for a state that has often been dubbed “Red Kerala.” At first glance, I assumed that the strength of the far left had declined in this election, as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) took only five Kerala constituencies while the Communist Party of India was victorious in only one. Closer analysis, however, revealed that three constituencies marked as “other” actually belong in the far-left category. Kollam supported, as it often does, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a long-standing national group that has seen better days (it took only 0.3 percent of the vote nationwide). The RSP was weakened in Kerala in 2001 by the splitting off of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Bolshevik), founded by the steadfast leftist politician Baby John; this new party, which bizarrely joined the conservative BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in March 2014, failed to take any seats. Two constituencies in Kerala supported independent candidates, but both are associated with the far left. The victor in Idukki was supported by the CPI[M], while Chalukudi voted in the locally famous comic actor Innocent Vareed Thekkethala, who is also associated with the CPI(M). Innocent’s victory was a shock to some, as Kerala, unlike many India states, had not previously elected celebrities to high positions. As reported in the Deccan Chronicle:

Sixty-five year old Innocent Vareed Thekkethala, popularly known as only Innocent, has made history in Kerala, by becoming the first actor to be get elected to Lok Sabha from state. The actor, a cancer survivor who contested as an Independent with support of the LDF, defeated his nearest rival P.C. Chacko of the Congress, a veteran in electoral battles, by 13,884 votes in Chalakkudy constituency.

The victory of Innocent, a school drop-out, has shocked UDF, which was so sure of Chacko’s win. The latter, a sitting MP in neighbouring Thrissur, had moved to Chalakkudy, considering it as a safe bastion of Congress.


The victory of Innocent was also surprising due to the fact that the constituency that he represents has a large Christian population, which tends to vote for the center-left. The most heavily Christian part of Kerala, Kottayam, supported the Kerala Congress Party, as it often does. This party broke away from the Indian National Congress Party in 1964; according to the Wikipedia, it “distinctively argues for the rights and privileges of Kerala state in a political spectrum which otherwise consists of state bodies of parties owing allegiance to various `high commands’ at the national level.” (The linkages between religion and voting patterns in Kerala is a interesting and important topic in its own right;  I will run a separate post on this topic next week.)

Bihar 2014 Election TableBihar 2014 election mapIn regard to Bihar, the BJP took most of the constituencies in the west, whereas the east tended to support regionalist parties. Bihar’s regionalist parties derive most of their support from lower caste groups, and all proclaim their politics to be based on either socialism or social democracy. Such left ideological positions, however, have not prevented two of them from allying with the center-right BJP. Overall, as in neighboring Uttar Pradesh, the big story in Bihar is the fact that many voters abandoned caste- and region-based parties that emphasize redistribution in favor of the business-oriented and Hindu-nationalist BJP. By the same token, the biggest loss in Bihar was suffered by Janata Dal (United), a secularist party sometimes described as socialist and sometimes as center-left.

(Note: The “ideological descriptions” on the maps here are taken from the Wikipedia page of each particular party.)









A New Political Bifurcation of India?

India 2004 election mapAs mentioned in the previous GeoCurrents post, the 2014 Indian election reveals a intriguing division across the country, one separating the greater southeast, where regional parties generally prevailed, from the rest of the country, where the BJP generally triumphed. There are, of course, a number of exceptions to this pattern, such as Punjab and much of the far northeast. It is also too early to tell if this division will persist, as many of the patterns evident in the 2014 electoral map are relatively new. As recently as 2004, Andhra Pradesh in the southeast voted fairly solidly for the Indian National Congress (INC) rather than regional parties, whereas most districts in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar did not support either the BJP or the INC. 2014 India Elections Regional Parties map 1To illustrate the current regionalist voting pattern in India, I have prepared three maps. The first shows the states where a single regional party took a majority of constituencies. As can been seen, this category includes three large and two small 2014 India Elections Regional Parties map 2states, all located in eastern India. In making the second map, I considered as well states in which several regional parties together dominated the election. Here he only addition was Andhra Pradesh, which has recently been embroiled in the movement to create the new state of Telangana. This map best fits the southeast/northwest bifurcation of India mentioned at the beginning of the post. The final map includes as well states in which regional parties took a significant 2014 India Elections Regional Parties map 3number of seats, but did not dominate the election. Here the simple split of India into two electoral regions is not so clearly evident. Two Indian state, Kerala and Bihar, exhibited particularly complex electoral patterns; they will be analyzed in a separate post. Three Simplistic Divisions of India MapFinally, and at the risk of undue if not grotesque simplification, I would note that this electoral division runs against two other bifurcations of the country. In terms of economic and social development, India is vaguely split into a more prosperous and educated southwest and a poorer and less educated northeast (but with much of the far northwest fitting in much better with the southwest). Linguistically and perhaps in broader cultural terms as well, the main divide is between the Dravidian south and the Indo-Aryan north. The second-to-last map juxtaposes these three admittedly simplistic macro divisions of the country. Although I don’t put much credence in this map, I do find it intriguing that the lines converge in the vicinity of Hyderabad, a city and region that nicely exhibit the diverse economic, cultural, and India per capita GDP by state mappolitical conditions of contemporary India

Regional Patterns in India’s 2014 General Election

India 2014 Election mapThe overriding story of India’s 2014 general election is of course the massive triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi, along with the corresponding defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC). The BJP gained 166 seats in the Lok Sabha (Indian parliament) for a total of 282, while the INC lost 162 for a total of only 44. Yet in regard to the overall vote, the BJP victory does not appear so overwhelming, nor does the gap between the two main parties loom so large: the BJP took only 31 percent of the total vote against the 19.3 percent share of Congress. This discrepancy reflects the collective strength of India’s many regional and minor national parties, along with the fact that the Indian National Congress has few areas of concentrated support. But both the BJP and the INC do gain addition clout from their allied parties. In the nationwide vote, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance took 36.5 percent, whereas the INC-led United Progressive Alliance took 22.2 percent. But regardless of such complexities, if one analyzes the election results for all Indian political parties, the conclusion is clear: the 2014 contest reflects a major swing to the political right.

India 2014 Election BJP MapTo illustrate the main geographical patterns in the election, I have posted the Wikipedia map (originally in German) of the results above. The numerical data provided in this post come from the same source. I have also outlined some of the regional results found on this map to create a series of more simplified maps, with stylized boundaries. These maps, unfortunately, are rather crude, due to time constrains. In some cases, I have juxtaposed these maps with maps showing the results of the previous national election (2009).

India 2014 Election NDA MapThe main national pattern, clearly evident on the first map posted here, is a new electoral split between greater northwestern India, where the BJP dominated, and the south and east, where regional parties prevailed. The BJP’s current zone of support spans some of the deepest economic and cultural divides in India. It includes many of the country’s most prosperous and socially developed areas as well some of its poorest regions. It also bridges the gap between the Indo-Aryan-speaking north and the Dravidian-speaking south; although the south largely supported regional parties, most of Karnataka opted for the BJP.

India 2009 2014 Elections NDA mapThe zone of BJP support expanded greatly from 2009 to 2014. Its main new areas of electoral success include the mountainous north (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir), impoverished and densely populated Uttar Pradesh, prosperous Haryana, and relatively poor and arid Rajasthan. Congress and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance saw major declines in these same areas, but their most spectacular drop was in the southeast. Here regional parties unaffiliated with their alliance did particularly well. In Andhra Pradesh, the INC was undermined in part by the controversies surrounding the creation of the new state of Telangana.

India 2014 Election INC MapThe paucity of districts taken by the Indian National Congress is striking. The only sizable areas in which the party was victorious were the lightly populated and peripheral far northeast and a few mostly rural zones in India 2014 Election UPA Mapsouth-central India. Although southeastern Karnataka constitutes one of the largest remaining Congress strongholds, Bangalore—the regional metropolis and center of India’s high tech industry—surprised some observers by voting for the BJP. The INC’s allies in the United Progressive Alliance also performed poorly, with the Maharashtra-based Indian Nationalist CongressIndia 2009 2014 Elections UPA Map—which had been “expelled from the Indian National Congress … for disputing the right of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi to lead the party”—losing three seats to take only six, and the Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal taking only four. In West Bengal, the All India Trinamool Congress, which broke away from the INC in 1989, triumphed handily, but it also dropped its connection with the broader United Progressive Alliance two years ago.

India 2014 Community Parties Election MapIndia’s Third Front alliance, dominated by parties of the far left, also suffered a sharp loss in the election of 2014. This coalition saw a significant loss of representation in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. India’s two major communist parties triumphed only in the small state of Tripura in the far northeast and in a few scattered districts of Kerala and West Bengal. Marxism’s electoral decline has been steep; as recently as the 2004 contest, most districts in West India 2014 Election Third Front MapBengal and Kerala supported communist parties. Nationally, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dropped seven seats and retained only nine, whereas the Communist Party of India lost three seats and kept only one. Several other parties in the Third Front alliance saw even larger declines. The Uttar Pradesh-based Samajwadi Party dropped 18 seats and kept only five, and the Bihar-based Janata Dal (United) Party lost 18 seats India 2019 2014 Election Third Front mapand retained only two. (Curiously, Janata Dal [United] is a secularist, socialist party, yet it had previously been in an alliance with the BJP, which it dropped “in protest against the elevation of Narendra Modi.”) One party in the Third Front, Odissa-based Biju Janata Dal, gained both seats and votes. But this social-India 2004 election mapdemocratic party joined the Third Front only in 2009, having previously been affiliated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. In India, political parties and especially party alliances do not always follow clear ideological lines.

Several parties allied with the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance also gained representation. Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena, a hard-core Hindu Nationalist party, added seven seats for a total of 18, and the populist Andhra Pradesh-based Telugu Desam Party gained 10 for a total of 16. In Bihar, the Lok Janshakti Party—which is officially described as secularist and socialist—went from zero seats to six. In Punjab, the Sikh-oriented Shiromani Akali Dal held even at four seats, although its share of the popular vote dropped.

Several central portions of Punjab, on the other hand, supported the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. In India overall, this party performed much worse than had been expected in late 2013, when its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, was elected chief minister of Delhi. Kejriwal, however, stepped down several months after his victory due to his frustration with the lack of progress against graft, a move that was evidently costly to his party. Nationally, Aam Aadmi took only two percent of the vote.

Several non-aligned regionalist parties did extremely well. The centrist, Tamil Nadu-based All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam gained 28 seats for a total of 37. In the emerging state of Telangana in the south-center, the center-right Telangana Rashtra Samithi went from two seats to 11. In southern and northeastern Andhra Pradesh, the new YSR Congress Party, which recently broke from both Congress and the United Progressive Alliance, gained nine seats.

Two major regional parties crashed. In Tamil Nadu, the democratic-socialist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam went from 18 seats to none, taking only 9.6 million votes as opposed to the 18 million that went to the more conservative All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party. In Uttar Pradesh and environs, theBahujan Samaj Party lost all 21 of its seats. Despite this gargantuan drop, the party still took 23 million votes—four percent of the total—putting it in third place in the popular count. Such a discrepancy between votes and seats reflects in part the huge population of the central Ganges Valley. In 2009, Bahujan Samaj had taken ten per cent of the vote nationwide. This party gains its strength primarily from the Dalit (“untouchable,” formerly) community and the so-called Other Backwards Castes (OBC). The fact that the BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, is himself a member of an OBC may have helped siphon off some support from Bahujan Samaj Party.

Modi’s membership in an OBC, however, has been the subject of controversy. As was reported in DNA, Congress Party representatives recently claimed that:

 Narendra Modi doesn’t belong to any backward caste, but was in fact born into an upper caste “Vaishya” family, that is given title of “Modh”, for being super rich, like Mod Brahmin and Modh Bania.  Alleging Modi was a “fake OBC”, former Gujarat Assembly opposition leader Shaktisinh Gohil armed with documents said Modi belonged to a Vaishya sub-caste the “Modh Ghanchi”, a microscopic minority found only in Gujarat. “He, in fact, belongs to the upper caste since he comes from a prosperous business community,” said Gohil.

Modi’s proponents, as well as some of his local opponents, disagree. As reported in RediffNews:

 The moot question is — is Modi an OBC?

“Yes!” says Achyut Yagnik, co-author of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat and a staunch critic of Modi.

Yagnik, an Ahmedabad-based thinker and social activist, says, “The Modh Ghanchi community is part of the Other Backward Classes in Gujarat. They are NOT upper castes.”

It will be interesting to see if Modi’s caste positions continues to be discussed.

The discussion on India’s 2012 election will continue with additional posts later this week. Maps showing the success of the major regional parties, along with state boundaries, will be posted.