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Checkspotting: Here's a Map of Republican Presidential Candidates' Fund-Raising Hauls

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, August 25 2011

Development Seed's Dave Cole just shared this map he made of fund-raising by candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, built using their open-source TileMill mapping software.

TileMill is part of a modern revolution in which control of the way we see the world is being wrested away from academia and people with money. Tools like TileMill, of which there are many — Nancy Scola interviewed several makers of mapping tools, including folks at TileMill's foundry Development Seed, for the piece linked to above — make it easier for people without money, connections or a Ph.D to dispute facts on the ground. If you're talking about the way things are in a given place, you'll likely seek to understand that place by looking at a map — and a growing group of non-academics and non-governments are becoming capable of making those maps.

There are many stories about what this means for disaster response — last Friday, Development Seed and the World Food Program created a new one by tying a map of food security in the Horn of Africa to a fund-raising appeal, and releasing all the maps and underlying data that built the map — but here's an example of what this might mean for politics.

In July, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign put out an appeal for data nerds of all types to join up to help Obama for America make data-driven decisions. The Obama campaign has a host of data — voter files appended with reams of supplementary information from the 2008 campaign and, probably, other Democratic efforts as well; U.S. Census data on demographics by region; internal and public fund-raising data; the once-vaunted Obama for America email list of 2008 volunteers, although no one is certain if Obama 2012's grassroots effort will have the mojo it had during the president's first campaign to occupy the Oval Office.

The thing of it is, much of that data is now available to any geek with some computer skills and a political agenda. There are low-cost ways to access national voter files, if you know where to look. The U.S. Census Bureau has for years been not only a provider of data but accommodating with questions and support for researchers using it, and even a quasi-geek like myself can do a halfway decent analysis on publicly available fund-raising data, between what's out there from the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

This TileMill map is a demonstration of what someone with interest and the right skills can do these days, given the new proliferation of not only data but tools to work with them. It should be said, though, that this isn't as easy as it looks. The dot map represented here was "easy" for Cole — but only because folks at the Chicago Tribune, who also do this for a living, put in the time to build a whole new module for the Python programming language. Their code takes data about a region, crunches it and spits it out again as a set of points to create a dot-density map like the one Cole made.