Maps explain Covid-19 affect across US geography; plus explanation of “red/blue” states, electoral college, and “half-mast” flags.
May 7, 2020. wp.krigline.com ⇔
COVID-19 maps explain speed of spread/re-opening
While looking at the news recently, some maps caught my eye. Our friends abroad may have a hard time understanding how big and diverse the US is. Some find it difficult to understand how the COVID-19 virus affects different regions in different ways, and why the speed of “opening up” is different from place to place. I think these maps help explain it. But you should also understand that a rural “county” may contain several small towns, while a major city (like Atlanta, Georgia) and it’s suburbs normally spread across several counties. I wanted to see how Covid-19 is affecting the counties where my family lives. We all live in cities, though not “huge cities” like New York. Meanwhile, I also wanted to see how the virus was affecting a sparsely-populated place. Take a look….
During the pandemic, you should be able to find updated maps on the Johns-Hopkins University and Medicine website: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map
Red States and Blue States
These maps reminded me of another “county by county” map. The other night, an international student asked why some states are called “red states” and some are called “blue states.” Trying to keep it simple, we explained that “red states” voted for President Trump and “blue states” voted for Mrs Clinton in the 2016 election. In other words, “red states” had more “Republican” voters (and likely have a Republican Governor) while “blue states” have more “Democrats” (and a Democrat Governor). Ballots are always “secret” and voters can easily switch between parties every time they vote (America also has smaller political parties, which occasionally have a winning candidate). Since there are congressional elections every two years, plus elections for the US President and for state Governors every four years, the “color” of a state can flip between red and blue, though most states remain pretty consistent over time.
The following map shows how each county voted in the 2016 presidential election. As you can see from this map, the vast majority of counties voted “red” (for Trump) in the election, but the blue dots are normally cities, where people tend to vote for the Democratic party (Clinton). Most states have more people in small towns or rural areas than they have in a handful of big cities.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Electoral College.” It’s a little too complicated to explain it here, but in summary, America’s founders didn’t think it would be fair for the people in one state’s big cities to always decide the nation’s political questions (e.g., who would be president). So a complicated system was created that sought to balance population and state’s rights. In a national election, each state has “votes” in the Electoral College based on each state’s congressional representation (basically, by population). Thus, the votes of many small states can outweigh the votes of states with big cities (such as New York and California). As you can see from the map, LOTS of people in California voted for Mrs. Clinton–in fact, it was so many that she won more individual votes nationally than Trump. (In California, 8.75 million voted for Clinton; 4.48 million voted for Trump. Nationally, she won 2.9 million more votes than Trump.) Rarely can a person be elected President without winning either California or New York, but it happened in 2016–and you can see how many “red” counties were needed to outweigh the “blue” big cities. It doesn’t matter how many “popular votes” he or she wins, but a candidate needs 270 Electoral votes to win the Presidency. In 2016, Trump won 30 states (of 50), which gave him 304 Electoral College votes (compared to 227 Electoral votes for Ms Clinton).
You can find more in-depth explanations on many other websites.
It’s interesting that the blue places on this 2016 election map are generally the darkest red on the 2020 Coronavirus maps (which again has to do with population density).
My final comment about the maps is that many international students are amazed that maps with this detail are freely available on the Internet. Their governments do not provide this kind of information about the choices/preferences of their people, and about health crises. In many countries, the citizens have no say in politics; in others, a select group of people can vote only for people in the ruling political party. Thus, it is astounding to read that Americans can easily change political parties, and that so many Americans don’t vote for anyone.
I think that Americans take for granted access to health and political information like this, as well as the right (normally) to freely move about and to meet with others—most of the world does not enjoy these freedoms, even in the best of times.
The US Flag at half staff
In addition to questions about “red/blue states”, sometimes students ask why the US flag is only half-way up the flag pole. You often see the United States flag flying at “half-staff” (or half-mast) when the nation or a state officially marks the death of someone important, such as a government official, military member, or first responder. Flags also fly at half-staff on Memorial Day, other national days of remembrance, or following a national tragedy. Many countries have a similar practice.
You’ll see this most often at places owned by the government, where someone is paid to take care of the flags. In fact, people can ask their senator or representative to send them a flag flown over the US capital building on a certain date (such as the person’s birthday); there is a cost involved (see https://www.aoc.gov/flags for info). I have such a flag, flown on my 18th birthday (thanks, Mom and Dad!). According to the “Architect of the Capitol” website, they fulfill 100,000 flag requests from Members of Congress annually.
Often, we don’t know why the flag is half-mast; it depends on how important the occasion is to the media. So, I found the following widget. If it works, below you will see why the flag is half-staff today (if applicable).
(Must have Javasript installed to see this image. Source: https://halfstaff.org/widget/)
For my article about Fighting Fear of COVID-19, click this link.
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