Wednesday 8 January 2020

Land, people and political maps

This is a final map wrap-up following the UK General Election at the end of 2019, but also a follow-on from my last blog post: Land doesn't vote but it does matter. I'll explain more below, but let's start with a little gif, which fades in and out between the new political map of the UK at the start of 2020 and a different version of the same map, but showing only where there are buildings (in an attempt to scale the data to the underlying population more closely). I've included some interesting facts about people and land below, so do keep reading. Teaser: only 4.4% of the UK land area is Labour constituencies, in contrast to the 32.8% of the population who live in Labour constituencies, which is very close to their 32.2% vote share at the election.

Land matters, but it's good to see both

Here are the individual frames from the gif, below, in case you want to look at them a little more closely. It's a bit of a balancing act deciding upon what line width to use for the buildings-only map - too thick and it's just massive blobs of colour. Too thin and everything disappears, so what you see here is a kind of compromise that is supposed to reflect the pattern of the underlying urban fabric that would be visible on a satellite view, for example.

Buildings file available here

The political map of the UK in 2020

How many people live in areas with a Conservative, Labour, SNP or Lib Dem MP?
This is an interesting question, but not one I came up with by myself. I was asked for an answer to this question, and because I'd compiled all the data already it was a relatively quick bit of analysis to arrive at some answers. So, here we go - below - based on the latest UK mid-year population estimates from 2018.

  • 55.3% of the UK population (36.7 million people) live in areas with a Conservative MP. The Conservatives have 56% of the seats (365 out of 650). The Conservatives won 43.6% of the UK vote in the 2019 General Election.
  • 32.8% of the UK population (21.8 million people) live in areas with a Labour MP. Labour have 31% of all UK seats. Labour won 32.2% of the UK vote in the 2019 General Election.
  • 7.4% of the UK population (4.5 million people) live in areas with an SNP MP. But of course that's a bit of a silly statistic because the SNP only stand in Scotland, obviously. So, the relevant figure here is shown below. The SNP won 3.9% of the UK vote in the 2019 General Election. Note: obviously, the % population and % seat shares will be quite similar owing to the sort-of-equal population per constituency. For Scotland, both figures are 7.4% of the UK in terms of seats and population living there.
  • 82.7% of the Scottish population (4.5 million people) live in areas with an SNP MP. The SNP won 45.0% of the Scottish vote in the 2019 General Election and have 81.4% of all Scottish seats.
  • 1.7% of the UK population (1.0 million people) live in areas with a Liberal Democrat MP. They also have 1.7% of all seats. The Liberal Democrats won 11.5% of the UK vote in the 2019 General Election.

You can see the full spreadsheet here if you like - it includes all parties and has separate tabs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and it has a map of the results. It looks like this (below). I've used total population here rather than electors because that was the question I was given and of course MPs are representative for all people.

More interesting than you may imagine, perhaps

None of this is of course particularly profound or surprising but I'm thinking about it in the context of the maps above and in relation to overall vote share, so I find it interesting. 

How much of the UK land area does each party 'hold'?
Describing this correctly is a bit tricky, but what I mean here is what percentage of the UK's land area does each party 'hold' or 'represent'? That is, what proportion of the new political map of the UK is shaded blue, red, yellow, orange, green and so on? I do like the different kinds of political maps we see these days (including the now-ubiquitous hex cartograms) but I also like to see things mapped in a more traditional manner, so long as we also have a different way of looking at it and are aware of the underlying numbers and settlement pattern (hence the gif at the very top of the page).

Okay, prepare to be blown away, or not, by this geographical trivia.

  • 62.4% of the UK land area is covered by Conservative constituencies.
  • 4.4% of the UK land area is covered by Labour constituencies - yes, 4.4% (but of course that's because they are mostly urban and therefore geographically small, but still this low figure surprised me).
  • 19.5% of the UK land area is covered by SNP constituencies.
  • 60.4% of the Scottish land area is covered by SNP constituencies.
  • 5.6% of the UK land area is covered by Liberal Democrat constituencies (with thanks to Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, clearly).
  • The full spreadsheet above has the rest of the data, including the individual UK country breakdowns.

The mid-2018 population estimates from the ONS put the UK population at about 66.5 million, with 56 million in England, 1.8 million in Northern Ireland, 5.4 million in Scotland and 3.1 million in Wales.

For land area, the UK as a whole is about 244,000 sq km (about the same size as Oregon, or almost exactly the same as the total area of the Great Lakes in North America). England covers 130,000 sq km, Northern Ireland 13,600 sq km, Scotland 79,000 sq km and Wales 21,000 sq km. The figures are in square miles as well as sq km in the spreadsheet.

What was that? You want more gifs, but different speeds and different sizes. Okay then, see below. 

More seriously - and there is a rationale here - switching relatively quickly between the two maps in this way helps highlight the ways in which the standard map view can, if we're not careful, give a distorted view of political representation. That's why I think in political mapping a mix of methods and numbers works best. Also, where we can use different kinds of approaches to explain this (like gifs) we probably ought to.

Fast enough for you? 

A mini version

This is a bigger version - click to zoom


Okay, one last stat. 

What percent of the UK population lives in Constituencies where more than 50% of the votes went to the Conservatives? 

By my calculations the answer to that is 28,258,422, so 42.5% of the UK population which, it so happens, is not so far away from the 43.6% share of the vote. But that is definitely not a defence of first past the post!

Bye for now.