Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Election perceptions: From thoughtful data crunch to wild media hunch

March 8, 2012, 8:44 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

Today we serve up the first of three election/media blog posts. They’ll range from serious data analysis (today), to a story tip and a wild hunch about media history.

This season’s Super Tuesday primary races were covered by the full-fledged data-mapping project Patchwork Nation, founded with Knight funds, and now run through the nonpartisan Jefferson Institute.

Patchwork Nation’s creator, journalist and author Dante Chinni, has mapped America, diving it into 12 “voter communities” – ranging from tractor country to monied burbs – each a social-demographic type, each a different color in the embeddable maps.

Using Patchwork Nation, instead of red states and blue states, we see all the colors of the American political scene. The widely used mapping system has become a book.  

This post shows the Ohio map generated by Super Tuesday. Hover over the voter type and see how the Republican candidates did in this key race, narrowly won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Part of the secret of winning elections is getting support from myriad parts of America’s political patchwork: Note how in Ohio Romney won the monied suburbs, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the empty nesters; Romney the military bastions, Santorum the service worker centers.

WNYC, the big New York public broadcaster, is among those using these maps. Patchwork Nation and Dante Chinni’s journalism has been featured in national media outlets  ranging from the Wall Street Journal to PBS NewsHour and NPR.

This is a good example of the power of open data, which is becoming more and more important in modern reporting. Knight grantees, including the Texas TribuneCalifornia WatchiWatchNews and Pro Publica, have developed strong nonprofit news brands by focusing on data-driven investigations and consumer-oriented data applications. This is a positive trend, and we hope that these digital data miners (pioneered by the Investigative Reporters and Editors) will continue to grow in number and that organizations such as Sunlight Foundation and Tracfed will be successful in liberating new government data sets.

If you want to tell public officials that open data matters, Sunshine Week is March 11-17, and that’s the perfect time to do it. This important Knight-funded initiative, now in its eighth year, offers an idea bank on its website listing patriotic ways to celebrate James Madison’s birthday, including promoting an open government proclamation in your community. Not surprisingly, the president’s supporters are in hot pursuit of all the digital data they need to win re-election; the rest of us should have access to the same data and tools.

Coming in future election blogs: A story tip in need of future study, and a wild media history hunch.

By Eric Newton, senior adviser to the President at Knight Foundation