Category Archives: Politics

Interactive population maps from Census Bureau

It’s hardly news that the West’s population is booming, but which counties in region are growing fastest? How has the demographic profile of Western states been changing?

The U.S. Census Bureau offers up some great interactive maps that depict population changes between 2000 and 2010. These maps, which you can embed in websites and blogs, also show how the racial composition of states changed during the first decade of the 21st century.

I’ve compiled the maps for all 11 Western states on this page, which also includes a national overview.

Some rural counties losing residents

Below is an example from Colorado. Although the state’s overall population rose 17% from 2000 to 2010, plenty of counties actually lost residents during the decade. The shrinking counties are found in rural, agricultural regions, while many of the fastest growing counties are located near cities in the Front Range, from Fort Collins to Denver to Colorado Springs, and along the state’s Western Slope. This same pattern of declining rural populations holds true in some other Western states, such Montana, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Latino population rising

One of the most striking trends is the sharp rise in the number of Latino residents. Below is a map for Nevada, which saw its Latino population increase by 82% from 2000 to 2010. Every state in the region experienced strong growth in Latino residents, ranging from 25% in New Mexico and 28% in California, which already had large Latino populations in 2000, to 73% in Idaho and 78% in Utah, which ranked third and second behind Nevada. Overall, the Latino share of the U.S. population increased 41% from 2000 to 2010.

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2012 Graphics Highlights from The New York Times

The New York Times does some of the best data visualization in journalism and the paper has assembled highlights of its 2012 work. A few of these graphics relate to Western environmental issues and some are accompanied by descriptions of how they were created. Here are my favorites:


Drought footprint
Source: The New York Times

1) The drought’s footprint

Brilliant use of small multiples to show what fraction of the United States was experiencing moderate to extreme drought in a given year. When the piece was published in July, more than half the contiguous United States was classified this way, the highest level in nearly six decades.

The graphic stretches all the way back to 1896 and it really shows that 2012 was an exceptionally dry year. But as recently as 2010, very few areas were experiencing drought.

We cover drought in our water deck, and in a future post I’ll be sharing some visualizations that focus on drought the West.


2) Drought and deluge

Source: The New York Times
Drought and deluge. Source: The New York Times

The Times used a different system for measuring drought to create another visualization. Rather than relying the U.S. Drought Monitor, as it did in the footprint maps, the paper uses the Palmer Drought Severity Index. The former uses the Palmer index as one of its inputs, but it’s also based on stream flows, crop moisture, precipitation patterns, and expert judgement. The Palmer index is strictly based on temperature and precipitation. It not only shows drought but also wet spells.

One cool thing about this graphic is that you can roll your mouse over the various levels of the Palmer index to see the driest and wettest periods. Once again, the current drought stands out as a deep one, but it’s certainly not unprecedented.

Another thing I noticed is that in 2011, large parts of the country were either very dry or very wet.


Obama budget
Slicing Obama’s budget. Source: The New York Times

3) Slicing Obama’s budget

This graphic puts the humble pie chart to shame and effectively shows how entitlements, defense, and debt costs dominate the federal budget. Click on the “Department Totals” tab to see how federal spending is divided up by agency. As you might imagine, environmental departments, such as EPA and Interior, are overshadowed by other agencies.

We cover federal (and other) spending in our politics deck and have a number of other graphics showing how environmental and natural resource programs are tiny in comparison with other federal spending priorities.


Democratic convention
Words used at Democratic convention Source: The New York Times

4) Parsing the rhetoric at political conventions

The Times analyzed all of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions to determine which words were most common and how the language of the two parties differed.

You can plug in your own words or phrases to see how often they were spoken. I’m being a bit parochial, but here are the number of hits I got for both parties: environment (3), conservation (0), climate change (1), global warming (0), pollution (1), water (4). And that’s per 25,000 words.


EcoWest’s mission is to analyze, visualize, and share data on environmental trends in the North American West. Please subscribe to our RSS feed, opt-in for email updates, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.