Sunday, January 31, 2010

Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture:

So, as with most of my digging into dry, obscure facts, the inspiration for this came from reading something that made me so annoyed that I was gritting my teeth. Said thing was an article written by a representative of a Montana trade group talking about how "backyard chickens" and "organic farms" couldn't really feed America.
Which, in part, I am sure he is right: all this hippy agriculture could indeed just be a fantasy, and a fantasy that seems to have some disconcerting implications, mostly involving dinosaur-riding.But, as long as we are talking about agricultural fantasies, it is also fair to talk about large chunks of rural America playing cowboy. I knew that California was the country's largest agricultural state, and I guessed that much agriculture actually went on in big, mainly urbanized states, rather than in the mythical "heartland". But!
The thing to do is to actually look at data.There seems to be a loose relationship between population and agricultural output, although a lot of that has to do with California and Texas.
But that chart is just a warm up, since of course population doesn't have a lot to do with agricultural output: most agricultural output goes on far away from cities.
So the next chart shows us the percentage of a state's population that is rural versus its per capita agricultural output.
Suddenly, the Dakotas become way more important: per capita, they are generating over 12,000 dollars of agricultural income. Other likely suspects, such as Nebraska and Iowa, are also performing quite well. However, up in the top left, notice a four-pointed triangle of states that otherwise don't have a lot in common: Wyoming, Montana, Vermont and Mississippi. Both are highly rural, but have a rather modest agricultural output per capita. California is quite lonely down in the corner.
Of course it doesn't make much sense to look at states in terms of overall per-capita. All those stylists in Hollywood aren't adding much to California's agricultural output. So what if we just look at output per RURAL capita?

Even though everyone moves up with this, the effect is relatively different. California, with a very small rural population, manages to create 48,000 dollars of agricultural income per rural resident. Massachusetts has a similar effect, but that is largely an artifact. As would be Rhode Island and New Jersey, who have infinite output for every rural resident.
This also puts the Midwest/Great Plains in a slightly more modest perspective, and shows that our four-pointed triangle is quite disappointing. Considering how much of Montana is rural, rural Montana (or Wyoming) is not actually producing that much agriculture.

So if organic farms are an illusion, agribusiness being an actual economic force in Montana is doubly so.

Of course, a lot of these charts are dealing with things that are very hard to operationalize. Many "rural" areas are not actually given to serious agriculture, and much agriculture goes on in urban areas (such as Fresno county, which is a metropolitan area, Class 2, and has by its self as much money from agriculture as all of Montana). And of course the amounts of arable land, and how much it can be used, vary greatly from state to state. (It is amazing that North Dakota could even have 1/10th of the agricultural output of California, since it snows in North Dakota from September to May). There are lots of different ways to operationalize this, but my first suspicion was correct: heavy duty agriculture goes on mostly in a number of states, some of which are quite populous and urban.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I have way too much time on my hands: every county in five states, Obama, and education

There are two things wrong with this blog: first, I haven't updated every day, like I used to. Second, I seem to be get more and more wrapped up in political minutiae, despite my occasional efforts to the contrary.

Well, sorry.

So I have followed even further down my obsessive path by plotting the college graduation rates of every single county in five states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, against Obama's results there. I did this because I had already done three of those states, and noticed a recurring pattern. So I wondered what would happen if all 197 of those counties were plotted against each other.

And the results were:

What this diagram shows to me is that in these five states, the politics are not quite as different as could be imagined. Living in a county with lots of college educated people will probably make you more liberal in Idaho, just as it will in Washington. The only difference is that Washington state has a lot more of those counties. Also, notice the three quadrants: there is only one county, Ada, Idaho, with over 30% of college graduates that went Republican. There are, however, lots of Obama counties that are under 30%.
For those not familiar with the multisplendored thing that is the geography of the Northwest, those outliers in the lower right all have interesting stories:
Big Horn, Montana: is on the Crow Indian reservation
Glacier, Montana: is on the Blackfoot Indian reservation
Deer Lodge, Montana: has been working class leftist for a 100 years ago. Full of the descendants of Irish miners. Along with the people in Silver Bow county, they invented the weekend and these counties have not voted Republican EVER.
Blaine, Montana: another reservation county
Lincoln, Clatsop and Columbia, Oregon: coastal counties. I don't know why the Oregon Coast, and the Washington Coast, tend so Democratic
Cowlitz, Pacific and Gray's Harbor, Washington: Another trio of working class, rural, coastal counties. Gray's Harbor is where Kurt Cobain came from.
Hood River, Oregon and Multnomah, Oregon: the power of HIPPIES. Multnomah is an interesting contrast with King: despite having less education, and less minorities, Obama did better than he did in King County, Washington.

Outliers on the other side of the map:
Okay, I lied about one thing. Idaho probably is more conservative than Oregon, Washington or (most of) Montana, even with its generally lower college rates. Consider Madison county, which has close to a 25% college graduation rate, but which Obama lost by a margin of 70%. This are is, as could be guessed, heavily populated by the Mormon ethnicity. In fact, I suspect that most of the counties that skew to the left on this diagram are probably heavily ethnically Mormon.

So now we know!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oregon Measures 66, 67, and the Obama Proxy

During a special election yesterday, the state of Oregon passed two ballot measures, one increasing taxes on people in the upper income bracket, and the other increasing corporate taxes. The measures passed by a narrow margin, and were only passed because of a large margin in Multnomah County, Oregon's largest and most liberal county.

The measures had very similar margins on the state level, 54.2 percent for Measure 66, increasing personal income taxes, and 53.5 percent for Measure 67, raising corporate taxes. Broken down by county, there was also, as could be expected, an almost perfect correlation.In fact, because of the way I round, there might have been even more correlation than this chart suggests. In any case, that isn't very interesting, as the results could probably be expected.
What is slightly more interesting is when I run the numbers for 66 (which, as I said, are also pretty much the numbers for 67) against my best current proxy of Oregon's politics: Obama's 2008 margins.
There is still a high deal of correlation here, alt:hough the numbers are different: Obama did a lot better than either of the margins did. However, some areas over performed Obama's numbers, whereas others underperformed. The counties on the right were underperformers, the counties on the left overperformers. Hood River, Washington, Clackamas and Deschutes counties are all underperformers, and the reason could be that they are counties with a lot of education, that might have been drawn to the image of "Professor Obama", but because they are also fairly wealthy, are less then enthusiastic about tax increases. On the other hand, Lincoln and Clatsop counties on the coast, as well as Umatilla, Wallowa and Harney in Eastern Oregon, are all more rural, traditional areas that might not like the image of liberalism, but might be more prone to economic populism.
At least, that is one way to look at the data. And of course, the skewing doesn't change the absolute numbers: rich, suburban Washington County still supported the measure, and poor, rural Umatilla County did now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Oregon senate! Education! Massachusetts! This one has it all!

After coming to the (probably foregone) conclusion that the votes for two candidates for the same party will closely correlate with each other, even if the actual numbers are very different, I decided to test it out:
This shows the result of the 2008 Oregon senate rate. Obama got a 17 point margin, Jeff Merkely got a 2 point margin and a plurality. Despite the differences, the numbers they scored lined up very well. This is some of the best correlated data I have ever seen. There are no significant outliers. There are not even any insignificant outliers.
(BTW, I will probably now be fishing around for a pair of elections that DOESN'T correlate like this)
Long, long ago, I posted a plot of Obama's margin versus college graduation rates in Oregon's counties. I did the same thing for Merkley's margins versus college graduation rates, and got this:

This chart looks very much like the Obama one, and shows that over all, education is pretty strongly correlated with Merkley's margin. (Which only makes sense, since Obama and Merkley's margins correlate perfectly, and Obama and education correlate, therefore Merkley and education correlate. There is probably a formula for it)
Now, back to Massachusetts. Nationally, college graduation rates correlated with Obama's margin. In several of the states I looked at, college graduation rates correlated with margin, by county. So if you would have asked me, I would have guessed, quite strongly, that Massachusetts' most educated counties were the most Democratic. But guess what I found:

In Oregon, in Colorado, or even in Montana and WYOMING, the counties with the highest education are the most Democratic. In Massachusetts...nope! This is for Coakley's election, but as discussed, since Coakley and Obama's margins correlated very closely, Obama had pretty much this shape.
Now I have some MATHEMATICAL PROOF of something I figured out when I first went to school in Vermont: in the Northwest, education is used to stuff people full of LIBERAL PROPAGANDA so that they agitate for GREEN CITIES and JUSTICE FOR ALL. In Massachusetts, education is something you do to get some cocktail party talk, before you marry an investment banker and move to the suburbs.
(And for those who like this blog only for the MATHS, please forget that previous paragraph).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Its late, but I just have to show that I was right: Coakley vs. Brown

Not too much comment, because my neck kind of hurts right now, having been staring at a glowing box all day, but:
With a few minor exceptions, the counties all line up pretty directly, meaning that there is no major breach or rearrangement between 2008 and now. Not to say that the 30 point shift between Obama's margin and Coakley's margin isn't significant, but Brown didn't get there by targeting some special region or demographic.
When I was looking at the graph before, I thought Middlesex would be the cut-off point, just because of its name. It seems Middlesex was not EXACTLY in the middle (although if it would have followed the 30 point drop exactly, it would have been), but it was pretty close. I didn't really know how Massachusetts population broke down, but apparently the most liberal counties are not actually that populous.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where I actually make a prediction:

So, one of the biggest political issues as of late is the Massachusetts special election, which has taken an unexpected turn, in that Massachusetts seems to actually have a chance of electing a Republican senator.
Trying to do a qualitative analysis of what is going on in Massachusetts would probably take us into some pretty murky territory, but luckily we can look at numbers.
I charted Obama's margin in 2008 versus Kennedy's margin in 2006, and came up with this:What this shows us is that the Democratic margins in two different races (and for that matter, I could have used any two races) correlate very strongly. Kennedy and Obama both got big margins, with Kennedy getting uniformly bigger margins, although the spread was different in different counties.
So the prediction I am going to make is that whatever the result of Tuesday's election, the plot will look a lot like this (and I will have one ready pretty soon after the election to see if I am telling the truth). Whatever the numbers turn out to be, they will correlate pretty well with either of the two numbers used here.
If there is some skewing of this diagram, it will probably be that the upper left 5 counties, which includes the city of Boston, will probably stay more stubbornly liberal than the counties between Plymouth and Nantucket.
I guess only time will tell!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You will die someday:

You will die someday.

But it probably won't be bears.

I had a chart to show this, but it won't upload. LATER.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to my old tricks: the 2008 election, poverty, and further comments on the coalition nature of American politics

After my last post, one of my occasional posts on something not state related, I decided to go back to my old tricks: the American states, demographics, and the 2008 election.
The election if fascinating for me because it allows an operationalization of attitudes that it is hard to capture with other statistics. Vermont and Idaho are very different, but what exactly the difference is, is hard to describe until you have an election, and then you have a gigantic difference between the two, that can be plotted. Or, for that matter, Montana and Idaho are very different, but it is hard to say so until you have an election. I mean, besides its obvious that Montana is better than Idaho.
The two variables I looked at today, poverty rate and Obama's margin, show again something that I have been harping on: the different states and areas of the United States have different demographics. This was especially obscured during the evil era of 2004-2005, and "red state/blue state". Despite some similarities in electoral patterns, there is not a lot else that Wyoming and West Virginia have in common. To wit:
What is interesting about this diagram (and I thought it was so interesting that I put it a larger size, and labeled every single state, because there is a lot going on here), is that there is some pretty clear geographic grouping. Especially over on the left side of the diagram, we have two different groups of states that supported McCain: a low-poverty group, consisting of mountain and prairie states, and a high-poverty
group that consisted of southern and Appalachian states. Also, notice that almost all the mountain and prairie states are relatively McCain-supporting, (which depends on whether Nevada and New Mexico are considered mountain states) and relatively low in poverty. Likewise, all southern/Appalachian states are high in poverty, and all support McCain. There is also no middle ground: there are (almost) no states with a poverty rate close to the US average that were strongly McCain-supporting. (The exception to this is possibly Idaho).
Another interesting thing about this diagram is none of the states that were close states (defined currently as within a 5 point margin either way) had a very high or very low poverty rate. What is even more interesting about these states is that they otherwise don't have much in common: Montana, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Indiana don't have much in common, besides all being close to the US median poverty rate, and being right on the fence in the election. Arizona was also probably in this group, but broke a little bit more for McCain than its "true" politics would suggest, because it was his homestate. I think these eight states will continue to be 'in the middle'.
There is also a gap between the Florida/Ohio line and states down and to the right. My intuition is that states like Virginia and Colorado, which are to the right of that gap, are where the true Democratic electoral base begins. Although Virginia and Colorado were seen as "swing" states this election, I believe they were actually states that shifted into the base. They have high levels of education, and low levels of poverty, and I think that they are closer to the base than Florida and Ohio are.
Another point to make, especially in regards to me grouping together the prairie/mountain states, is the difference between those states and, say, Colorado, Oregon and Washington might be less than you would expect either from stereotypes or from this chart. From what I have looked at before, the patterns in, say, Wyoming and Oregon are the same. Counties with large amounts of college educated people still go Democratic, sometimes dramatically so. The difference is, Oregon has a lot of those counties, and Wyoming has two of them, and those two counties have fewer people. The pattern in mountain/prairie states is to have the major Democratic-leaning group to be college educated and urban people. In the Appalachian/South, the major Democratic-leaning group seems to be African-Americans. The two sides of the Republican-coalition are also moving in opposite directions: South/Appalachia is becoming more conservative (although partially this is just a result of not having a Clinton and a Gore on the ticket), which the mountain/prairie seems to be becoming more liberal.
My own feeling is, if 2008 is the underlying picture, the Democrats have a really strong position. Greater education and urbanization seem to be moving some areas permanently into their column, such as Colorado and Virginia. It could be that Obama's success in 2008 was a reaction against Bush, and 2004 is closer to the underlying electoral picture. My own belief is that for some of the states, 2008 was the real picture, and for others it was a reaction. And this diagram actually, to me, gives a pretty good idea of which states are which. Ohio and Florida were reaction, Colorado and Virginia were demographic shift.
Of course, there are many other things that can come up. Will Hispanics remain a Democratic group? Will young and college educated people remain Democratic? Will the low-poverty, high education mountain/prairie states continue to become (at least slightly) more Democratic, and the high-poverty, low education Southern/Appalachian states become more Republican? Will incumbency be an advantage, or a disadvantage?
We don't know the future. We can only plot the past.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mostly because I like poking holes in this one: education around the world

Some years ago, I took a graph of educational attainment amongst the G-8, blanked out the names, and posted it on an internet community, and had people guess which countries they represented. For the most part, people guessed that the United States was the country with the lowest education, while a number of Western European nations had the highest education.
It was actually America with the most education, or at least up there.
Conservatives and liberals like to create a dichotomy between the United States and Western Europe that does not actually exist quite so much, as far as I can operationalize. Liberals believe that Western Europe is an enlightened land of socialism and the United States is a country of knuckle-dragging idiots, while Conservatives believe the United States is the last bastion of capitalism against the socialist realms of Europe. The truth is, the US and Western Europe (with "Western Europe" including Australia, Japan and Canada, of course) are market-driven countries with large social welfare programs.
Someday, I will give you some operational proof of that last statement.
Anyway, education wise, I guess American tourists go to Paris and meet lots of educated people, and assume everyone in France is educated.
That is not even what today's graph is about: today's graph is just about years of education versus college attainment. These are, (as you know by now) related, but not as related as you might guess. As we showed with the United States, its possible for an area to have a high amount of high school graduates, but a low or medium amount of college graduates.So, as could be believed, they are related, but not extremely strongly.
Also, I took this data from Notice that not all the dots on there are named. The dot next to Norway is New Zealand, but it could be Madagascar or Costa Rica for all you know. This is why I like using the states of the US: they are easy to define. No trouble to decide what nations are comparable.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The two states with the biggest political differences:

A while ago, I wrote that the electoral behavior of Oregon and Washington is fairly similar, which is not exactly a gigantic surprise.

I decided to look for the two states that have the least electoral similarity, and I probably have found them:

Vermont and South Carolina. Throughout much of its history, Vermont was a very Republican state, and South Carolina was a very Democratic state. (This may come as a surprise to some of you.) Since 1992, this has of course reversed. But in their history, Vermont and South Carolina have usually had gigantic differences in electoral margins.
In fact (and this is probably the only states this can be said of), Vermont and South Carolina have never voted for a Democratic candidate in the same election).
Notice that these numbers are margins, not total votes. Notice that South Carolina is up around the 98 mark as a margin. During the years of the "solid south", South Carolina had elections with numbers like 99%-1%. Vermonts Republican margins were usually pretty big, but not quite THAT big.
So, when do you think Vermont and South Carolina will finally agree?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Perot in 1992 and the coalition nature of American politics

I am sitting here wondering what is wrong with me, and why people don't like me.
But there is no answer to a question like that, so I will ignore it.

Instead, I will talk about what is on your mind: Ross Perot, and where exactly his support came from. As discussed in the last post, the evidence that Perot gained votes predominantly from one party or the other is, from the evidence I have, not apparent.

One thing about the diagram yesterday is it looked suspiciously like a much earlier plot I had done: Obama's margin versus high school graduation rates. States that went for McCain tended to have either low or high graduation rates.

(I hope you are following my intuition, because I am actually not, so connect the dots for me. After all, connecting dots is what this blog is all about).

I decided to plot Perot's total vote (not his margin, obviously) against high school graduation rates. (Using data from the 1990 census)

If any of you have been paying attention to my futile quest to link together demographic data with election margins, this data should really stick out, because...there is actually a pretty strong correlation here. I actually ran Perot vs. college, and then the same diagrams for Bush and Clinton, and none of them were very conclusive. But this diagram shows that states with high High School graduation rates had a pretty meaningful tilt towards Ross Perot. In fact, there is something about the way I made this diagram that conceals this: the cluster of states just inside the upper right hand corner is mostly New England states, which have two things in common with prairie/mountain states: lots of high school graduates, and a liking for Ross Perot. Notice that there is not much else they have in common though: Massachusetts and Idaho are stereotypically the polar opposites of national politics.
Notice down in the lower left, low High School and low Perot support states. Now, if you can remember back 18 years, the Southern states were divided between Bush and Clinton. Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia were Clinton states. Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina were Bush states. But all of them have low High School rates, and low Perot rates.

One of the ways that I look at the American "two party system" is as a "two coalition system". The coalitions are made of many different regional groups, with both official power structures and differing demographies. Perot carved up a big part of that coalition for himself in some parts, but not so in others.

This is still relevant, because the current coalition that makes up the Republican Party has two major geographic bases of support: the Prairie/Mountain states and the South/Appalachia. But these two groups have very different demographies, and different cultures and politics.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Perot "taking" votes in 1992

There are only two possible ways for a Democratic candidate to win an election: ACORN, or a third party "steals" them from the Republican Party.
Dog food isn't very tasty, neither is it nutritious.
Anyway, one of the pieces of CW thrown around about the 1992 election is that Clinton won because Perot peeled off votes from Bush. This is also disputed, but since the ballots, with their '2nd choice' bubbles, are all sequestered in a vault under Mt. Rushmore for 99 years, we won't know for a while who people would have voted for if Mr. Perot was not in a race.
But, we do have a technology that can hint at it. And that technology is...scatterplotting! Of course!
First, let me apologize that the new version of openoffice done gone and thrown my Y-Axis labeling right in the middle where it confuses things. I updated to karmic koala because I was trying to get Mario Kart's sound to work right, and it just kind of happened...
Anyway, back in 1992, George Stephapolous has to rent a motel room to call Clinton and tell him when a bimbo is erupting, because they don't have cell phones, and they have no idea what KARMIC KOALA is. But they do know who Ross Perot is.
The above diagram has basically no correlation between how much of a margin Clinton had, and what total percent Perot got. If Perot was mostly taking votes from conservatives, he would be getting a lot more votes in Nebraska, where there are plenty of conservatives, than in Massachusetts, where they are not quite as many. And yet Perot got 23% of the vote in both, even though Nebraska was 18 points against Clinton and Massachusetts was 18 points for him. Of course, looking at the plot a bit closer shows that there may be a little bit of a lean towards Perot in more conservative states: so maybe there was a few states where it made a difference. Over all, though, there doesn't seem to be much evidence either way from this data.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

As promised: Canada oh Canada

One good thing about Canada is, there is only 13 demographic units to enter data for.
Of course, I am still looking for good sources of data, and for good sources of interesting data. Those lacking, I just looked at what wikipedia could tell me, and decided to look to see if gdp per capita and land area were correlated:
There does seem to be some sort of trend here, or more than one. Also, the two big outliers are both very small territories. So I don't know. Also, yesterday I promised that we would get a plot that looked like a dragon's head. And of course this doesn't look like a dragon's head, but it does look somewhat like a pair of pliers. Or, as they say in Canada: "spanners".

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I keep on telling myself I will diversify, and then don't: ERS data on

I really do want to do more international stuff, but I tend to look at the US data, because I know where to start, and I know where the good data can be found. But some day, I will try to figure out how the Canadian census data works, and you will be able to compare Alberta to Nova Scotia all you want.

Another thing is, when I started this, I wanted to look for interesting shapes. But, truth be told, most data looks about the same: a big smudgy diagonal line. Such as this:
Rural and urban poverty go up together, and rural poverty is almost always higher: although by differing margins. While there seems to be the expected grouping in poverty along regional lines, the ratios themselves seem to be caused by different factors. Massachusettes, Nevada and Indiana all have higher urban poverty than rural poverty, but for very different reasons.

I will still be out there looking for an interesting shape. Life span versus miles of highway amongst Canadian provinces looks like a DRAGON HEAD! Maybe!