The real colors of the American political spectrum are gray and green

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With lush green fields and trees, slate-gray roads, and a tiny blue swimming pool, this aerial shot over Blue Ridge, Virginia looks like any place in the United States.

It seems strange that an ordinary piece of land like this could offer clues to the political leanings of its inhabitants. But to a certain extent, it is possible. Think of it as the aerial version of those red and blue election maps.




When asked to describe this landscape, you might say it is mostly green. Sorting the pixels in the image by color and brightness makes this impression even more precise.

In the image (below right) where this sorting was done, the lighter colors of the pavement and roofs appear at the bottom. Going up the image, the grays give way to the deeper greens of the trees and fields. At the top, the darker colored bands represent the shadows of the landscape.


This photograph and its corresponding color palette resemble many other places in America, but overall the United States is a patchwork of constructed and natural landscapes, with a variety of features and hues.

Farmland in the Finger Lakes region of New York State …


… Is very different from the Mojave Desert in California.


The colors of this district of Boise, Idaho …


… Unlike those on Lido Isle in Newport Beach, California.


Geographically distinct places sometimes share colors. The area around the Summerlin community in Las Vegas …


… Has a similar palette to this area near Coors Field in Denver.


Each aerial image above is a randomly selected snapshot of 65 acres of landscape in America. But what if these landscapes weren’t sampled aimlessly? What might they reveal if they were derived from a specific sample, say a political sample, featuring areas with similar margins of victory in the 2016 presidential election?

This is a grid of aerial images taken across the contiguous United States, selected at random and arranged by political tendency. Left-wing neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while President Trump received inordinate support in right-wing landscapes. Those in the middle were more evenly divided.


Aerial images of landscapes across the political spectrum





Each image shows an area 0.5 kilometers in diameter.

You’ll notice a general trend in these images: from a predominantly gray sidewalk on the left to greener, more open spaces on the right.

But this grid represents less than a tenth of 1% of the country’s land cover. To test whether this gray-to-green, Democrat-to-Republican color trend applies to the contiguous United States, we used powerful computers to process the imagery of every square meter in the ridings where the votes were cast.

This is what the result of this treatment looks like. This image reveals the 100,000 most common landscape colors in the United States, according to the vote of people living in those landscapes in 2016.


The colors of the Clinton and Trump districts





The pattern we see here is consistent with the urban-rural divide we are used to seeing on traditional maps of election results. What crosses the divide – the suburbs represented by the transition colors – can be crucial to winning elections. This is in part why President Trump, seeking to attract vacationing voters, has described the suburbs as under siege and threatened by crime. But the suburbs are neither politically nor geographically monolithic. This is where Democratic and Republican voters meet and overlap, in various ways.

At either end of the political spectrum, the more Democratic areas tend to be highly developed, while the more Republican areas are a more diverse mix: not just suburbs, but farms and forests, as well as land dominated by rock, sand or clay.


Landscapes across the political spectrum




Landscaped in

large towns and cities

Landscaped in

large towns and cities

Landscaped in

large towns and cities

Landscaped in

large towns and cities


The previous Clinton and Trump color gradient takes the country into account. If we break down each state in the same way, individual color palettes for the 48 contiguous states emerge, revealing the local characteristics of each. Some have more democratic gray areas, like New York, while others exhibit a relatively even distribution of colors across the political landscape, like Mississippi.

The images also reveal areas with unbalanced electorates, such as North Dakota and the District of Columbia. The white areas in these images indicate a lack of landscapes belonging to this part of the political spectrum.


The color of the Clinton and Trump neighborhoods in every state

A closer look at Texas shows landscapes ranging from dense cities to rolling prairies, forests and remote areas where oil and gas development dominates the terrain.


The Texas Landscape




Part of Lubbock, Texas.

Clinton +81 points.

Jacksonville, Texas.

Asset +50 points.

Part of Lubbock,

Texas

Clinton +81 points.

Jacksonville,

Texas

Asset +50 points.

Part of Lubbock,

Texas

Clinton +81 points.

Jacksonville,

Texas

Asset +50 points.


Massachusetts is a predominantly liberal state; there was no forum where Mr. Trump won more than 30 percentage points. But even here, the trend for less sidewalk and more green space in more Republican areas is apparent.


The landscape of Massachusetts




Part of

Cambridge, Mass.

Clinton +83 points.

Holyoke, Mass.

Clinton +47 points.

Part of Cambridge,

Mass.

Clinton +83 points.

Holyoke,

Mass.

Clinton +47 points.

Part of Cambridge,

Mass.

Clinton +83 points.

Holyoke,

Mass.

Clinton +47 points.


No image of a district or a city can perfectly summarize a national political landscape. Here are 100 randomly sampled images of neighborhoods across the country where Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton had equal support in 2016. There are some visual similarities, like the density of development, but there are also many differences, including the layout of the floors. neighborhoods and grounds of green spaces.


Places where Clinton and Trump split the vote



That said, lookalikes exist across the political spectrum. When certain landscapes are compared from above, their similarities are striking, but on the ground, the political leanings of the neighborhoods they are a part of could not be more different.



Lookalikes are anomalies, however, in the sea of ​​pallets that we can now use to help us visualize the divide between urban and rural voters. Thanks to our growing capacity to process huge amounts of data, this phenomenon is now expressed more precisely not in blues and reds, but in grays and greens.

As you move around where you live, think about the colors you see. These hues can say something about how your neighbors (and even you) might vote in November.

What about that green patch that we started with in Blue Ridge, Virginia? The enclosure of which he is part went for Donald J. Trump by a margin of 51 points in 2016.

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