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The simplicity of spatial

Mapping the votes of a nation

With the calling of the Australian Federal Election for the Coalition on May 18th, one of the most monumental events of Australia’s 2019 has now been and gone.

A federal election isn’t just monumental in terms of its impact on every day Australians’ lives; it is also a massive, complex undertaking. The sheer amount of information that an election produces – how many people voted, where people voted, which age groups tended to vote in certain ways, what issues struck chords with which electorates – is quite staggering.

As post-election analysis continues apace, voters, political pundits and journalists tend to rely on a very particular source of data: maps.

The simpler way to convey complex information

Maps nowadays are very different from the classic ideal of a treasure island drawing. Our digital mapping relies on up-to-date spatial information: that which has been captured, compiled, analysed, validated and made accessible by someone in the spatial information industry.

If you had already read through some of this website, you would realise that almost everything that makes up our 21stcentury lives involves spatial information – and a federal election is no different.

Every second online article about the election has been accompanied by an interactive digital map. This map, posted to The Age website on May 20, draws on some complex data sets. It is designed to address one very simple question: what was the two-party preferred swing at each polling booth throughout the country in the 2019 Federal Election?

While there is clearly a lot of data that needs to mined to accurately report the results, the map’s focus is narrow. It doesn’t muddy its message by attempting to answer too many questions. As a result, this map is a good example of spatial information presented in an informative but simple way. It fits in with its purpose and supports the analysis of voting trends.

All the same, as the user zooms in on the map, it brings up more detail, focusing on points to give a more nuanced picture of voting trends from booth-to-booth. Some rural boundaries are quite large and as such, a bird’s eye vantage point can sometimes give a disproportionate view.

It is about ease of access

Presenting this complicated information in a simple, engaging, easy-to-use manner is essential – because if no one can interpret the data, what good is trying to communicate it?

Data must be reduced in complexity so that its meaning can be understood by a map reader. An enduring example is the London Underground train map: it is simple, colourful, and single-purpose. While it is not to scale, it is extremely effective in conveying its information.

At the end of the day, every map has a purpose. When creating a successful map, an expert will ask themselves, “who will use this map and what will they use it for?” It needs to leave no confusion concerning the purpose of the map. If the user can’t identify what the map is about, it may be regarded as useless. However, when the aim is clear, so is the information.

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