Saturday 17 January 2015

Interpreting political maps

I recently tweeted a couple of maps showing the 100 most and least deprived constituencies in England. I used the 2010 English Indices of Deprivation to calculate this, aggregating the data from smaller areas to parliamentary constituencies. The method is not perfect but on the whole the areas identified are either among the poorest or richest in England. There are 533 constituencies in England so the figure of 100 is roughly the 20% most and least deprived (18.76% to be more precise). I shaded the maps using red for Labour, blue for Conservative, Yellow for Liberal Democrats and so on. The most obvious thing about the maps is, of course, the fact that the most deprived map shows nearly all Labour constituencies and the least deprived shows almost all Conservative constituencies. Click the caption below the images to see interactive versions.

100 most deprived constituencies

100 least deprived constituencies

These kinds of maps often make a big impact and are shared widely but people tend to draw conclusions from the patterns they see that are not necessarily correct - and often conclusion which mirror pre-existing biases and perspectives. For example, some people see these maps and claim that voting Labour makes you poor or that only rich people vote Conservative. Some would even claim that this proves that Labour has failed the constituencies they serve. Opponents would argue that coalition cuts have merely deepened spatial inequalities and hit Labour-voting areas hardest. This is all a bit dramatic, but you don't have to search online long to find such views.

Other people might say that if you want to be richer you should vote Conservative. Other people would tell you not to be so simplistic and point to the way in which voting patterns are formed at the local level. Still others might point to the longstanding economic differences between north and south in England and say that this has something to do with it. Perhaps others will say that the Conservatives are the party of the rich and that Labour are the party for the poor. There are varying degrees of truth in all these views but the point I want to make here is that none of this can be proven just by looking at a political map.

For me, such maps are a starting point for a conversation about what these patterns might mean, whether they are a problem and what might be done about it, if anything. I'm not making these maps because I'm pro-Labour or pro-Conservative or because I think that they prove anything in particular but because I want to draw attention to the patterns and what they might mean. Finally, some observations from the maps...

  • There are no Labour constituencies amongst the 100 least deprived in England.
  • There are 2 Conservative constituencies amongst the 100 most deprived in England.
  • Sheffield Hallam (Liberal Democrat, Nick Clegg) is amongst the 100 least deprived constituencies in England. 
  • There are 5 Liberal Democrat constituencies amongst the 100 most deprived in England.
  • There are 7 Liberal Democrat constituencies amongst the 100 least deprived in England.

It will be very interesting to see how these patterns change (if at all) after the General Election this year.