Cognitive Issues in Geographic Information Visualization

Perception and Thematic Map Symbol Design II

4108.1 - UK Election Cartography

Tuesday, July 4
8:30 AM - 8:50 AM
Location: Maryland C

Elections are fascinating events. Of course, the serious business of democratically electing a candidate to represent you in government is at the heart of the event, but for many of us, there also exists a fascinating sideshow in seeing how the results will be presented this time round. The media and pollsters expend a terrific amount of energy in the impossible task of trying to predict individual winners in marginal seats, and then overall outcomes when the polling shows the result will be close. In the UK in 2001 and 2005 the polls appeared to be relatively accurate, but that too could have been partly chance. The UK general election of 2010 was too close and complex to call, resulting in a coalition government. The polls then predicted the wrong outcome in both the 2015 election result and the subsequent 2016 Brexit referendum. Mapping actual outcomes becomes both more important and more interesting when they are unpredictable.

For cartographers, there’s interest in how maps are used in the run-up to an election, on the results night itself, and in how the result is reported post-election. Maps take centre stage because they give us a trusted mechanism with which to illustrate the past and, to put it most simply, people like maps, particularly colourful ones that reflect political affiliations with political party colours. They are tangible objects that add stature to debates and poll results, giving them a sense of realism where perhaps one should not be presumed to yet exist. Maps also give newspapers, web and broadcast media (as well as political commentators) a way to flex their technological and design muscles in a game of carto-one-up-manship. They are a battleground in their own right as organisations vie with one another to seek to produce ever more impressive graphics with which to lure viewers to rely on their coverage and not that of the other channel or newspaper. With so much need to captivate an audience, and so little of much substance to say until the actual results are released, maps become an important tool in the armoury of broadcasters.

In this paper we present a view of the past, present and future of election mapping using the United Kingdom as an example and with specific reference to the General Election of 7th May 2015. We review how UK election mapping has historically been designed and has developed before focusing on the way in which different media organisations used maps to augment their coverage of the 2015 General Election.

This review of the current state-of-the-art is then further developed as we report on two new maps we’ve produced that challenge what could be seen as conventional electoral cartography and use these as a springboard to think how election maps may change in the future. In particular, we explore the potential for artistic symbology to act as a metaphor for the uncertainty and convoluted process of electioneering and the reporting of results beyond merely showing the winners. We also explore the value of 3D thematic mapping as a way to encode the results using multivariate symbology and show how new technologies overcome some of the limitations of static 3D views. We assert that both of these methods offer something new and interesting to the presentation of election results as well as further developing the realm of new possibilities in thematic cartography.

Kenneth Field

Resident Cartographer
Esri Inc

Dr Kenneth Field is a self-confessed cartonerd. After 20 years in UK academia he now works at Esri in cartographic research and development. He undertakes research, writes, teaches and blogs about map design, is Past-Editor of The Cartographic Journal, co-founder of the Journal of Maps and is on the advisory board of the International Journal of Cartography. He is Chair of the ICA Map Design Commission, Fellow of the British Cartographic Society and Royal Geographic Society and a Chartered Geographer (GIS). He has won numerous awards for mapping and for cartographic pedagogy. He tweets as @kennethfield and blogs at


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Danny Dorling

Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography
University of Oxford

Professor Danny Dorling has published with many colleagues more than a dozen books on issues related to social inequalities in Britain and several hundred journal papers. His work concerns issues of housing, health, employment, education and poverty. He is an Academician of the Academy of the Learned Societies in the Social Sciences, Honorary President of the Society of Cartographers and a patron of Roadpeace, the national charity for road crash victims. Danny tweets at @dannydorling and many of his publications can be found at


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Claudia R. Sluter

Federal University of Parana - UFPR

Bachelor at Cartographic Engineering from Federal University of Paraná - UFPR (1986). Master at Geodetic Science from Federal University of Paraná - UFPR (1993). Doctorate at Computer Science from National Institute for Space Research - INPE (2000). Sandwich doctorate at Geography Department of the University of Kansas (1998). I am currently full professor at Federal University of Paraná - UFPR. I teach and research on the following subjects: geovisualization, thematic mapping, cartographic generalization, topographic mapping, interactive map design, and GIS.


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4108.1 - UK Election Cartography

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