Infographic: Animated Maps Of America’s Shifting Demographics

At what rate are Americans coming, going, living, and dying? These animated maps tell a fascinating visual story.

Most of this election season’s postmortems have focused on demographics, a vague phrase that refers to the changing face of the average American voter. But platitudes about young people and minority voters only reveal so much. What about, y’know, the data?


Shawn Allen, the design director at San Francisco studio Stamen, recently spent two weeks developing a way to illustrate census information using value-to-area maps, also known as continuous area cartograms. “I got an itch recently to make cartograms of my own after seeing The Amazing Morphing Campaign Money Map from NPR,” he tells Co.Design. “Most continuous area cartograms you come across these days are static, and I had a theory that it was because nobody had figured out a performant way of rendering them dynamically, so I started looking into what it would take.”

What it would take, it turns out, is an algorithm that dates back to 1985. Working with insights from Mike Bostock and colleague Nathaniel Kelso, Allen developed a JavaScript cartogram that deforms according to an algorithm that was written 27 years ago. “I’m basically standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says. In fact, hand-drawn cartograms date back at least to the 1850s.

Without using a single visible number, the map uses census data from 2010 and 2011 to show how people come and go in America. That could mean deaths, births, international migration, or domestic migration. Because it has so many more people, California wins in the pure numbers game: It has more births, deaths, and immigrants across the board. But when you start comparing those numbers against increases over time, you get a more dramatic picture. California still leads in births, but Texas isn’t far behind, while the Dakotas are shrinking in every way. West Virginia, apparently, is all rolling tumbleweeds and crickets: It leads the nation in death rate and trails it in births. Rhode Island and Michigan are largely static. New York and California, of course, lead the way in international migration.

It’s a kind of paint-by-numbers version of the U.S. populace. Without any text, it clearly illustrates what pundits are talking about when they call the 2012 election a “demographic game.” Now that Allen has set up the system, it wouldn’t be very hard to input different data sets, right?

The maps deserve to be experienced in their animated state, so head over to Allen’s website to play with them (or fork his code on GitHub).


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.