Strange Maps

330 - From Pickin' Cotton to Pickin' Presidents

2008-11-11-southvoting21 . . Both these maps show the same segment of the southern United States, and demonstrate a similar pattern. Yet each describes a wholly other era and a completely different process.   The bottom map dates from 1860 (i.e. the eve of the Civil War), and indicates where cotton was produced at that time, each dot representing 2,000 bales of the stuff. Cotton was King back then, and mainly so in the densely cultivated border area between Louisiana and Mississippi, and in an equally dense band of cotton cultivation starting west of the Mississippi-Alabama line, tapering out across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Other cotton centres are the areas around Memphis and what appears to be Lawrenceburg in southern Tennessee.   The top map dates from 2008, and shows the results of the recent presidential election, on county level. Blue counties voted for Obama, red ones for McCain (darker hues representing larger majorities). In spite of Obama’s national victory, and barring Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, all Southern states (i.e. all states formerly belonging to the Confederacy) went for McCain. The pattern of pro-Obama counties in those southern states corresponds strikingly with the cotton-picking areas of the 1860s, especially along the Louisiana-Mississippi and Mississippi-Alabama borders (the pattern corresponds less strikingly and deviates significantly elsewhere).   The link between these two maps is not causal, but correlational, and the correlation is African-Americans. Once they were the slaves on whom the cotton economy had to rely for harvesting. Despite an outward migration towards the Northern cities, their settlement pattern now still closely corresponds to that of those days. During the Democratic primary, many African-American voters supported Hillary Clinton, thinking it unlikely Barack Obama would win the nomination, let alone the presidency. When it became apparent that Obama had a good shot at the nomination (and thereafter at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue itself), their support for Obama became near monolithic. As it turns out, president-elect Obama won with the an overall support of 53%, but that includes over 90% of black voters (1).   And while their votes did not swing their states towards ‘their’ (2) candidate, the measure in which black residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina voted for Obama is remarkable in that this particular voting pattern still corresponds with settlement patterns of almost a century and a half ago. . Many thanks to Paul Downey for sending in this map, found here. . UPDATE #1:  I received an overlay of both maps from Mark Root-Wiley: “The borders do not line up perfectly but came closer than I thought they would. The top layer had to be made semitransparent in order to see the blue vs. red breakdown in Arkansas/Lousiana/Mississippi, but I think it’s pretty useful.  The correlation was even stronger than I thought.” It looks great. Thanks, Mark! . UPDATE #2: The original juxtaposition of the two maps was the work of Allen Gathman (explained here, and done here). . UPDATE #3: In comment #96, C. Neal explains how the voting pattern can be related to even more antique antecedents than Antebellum agriculture – the Late Cretaceous Period, no less. Go to the comment for link to the post…   strangemapsoverlay1

(1) Of white voters, only 43% voted for Obama; since Lyndon B. Johnson, no Democratic candidate for the highest office has ever garnered more than half the votes of European-Americans.

(2) Obama self-identifies as black, but with a white mother and a Kenyan father, shares no personal, historical bond with the issue of black slavery in the US.

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