I was browsing The Washington Post‘s graphics feed, as I am wont to do when I am bored and/or desperate to RT something, and I came across this nifty map of the United States, which shows all 435 congressional districts color-coded by House members’ religious affiliation. The accompanying article adds some good analysis of the general findings you can check out, but in the meantime, here are some observations from Yours Truly.

Why the map works:

1) It’s pretty. No, really. It’s a bright, colorful, interactive map that is (mostly) easy to read.

2) It breaks down nicely. There are four different versions of this map: (a) a broader Christian/non-Christian map to drive home how disproportionately Christian the House is (93 percent versus 76 percent of all Americans), (b) a Christian-centric map to showcase the diversity of denominations within that 93 percent, (c) a non-Christian-centric map to highlight the 30 districts that might otherwise get lost on the map and (d) a map to drive home the partisan divide between the Republican politics of the House’s Mormons (9 of 9) and the Democratic politics of the House’s Jews (18 of 19).

3) It’s interactive. If you hover the cursor over a district, the congressman’s name appears, along with his or her party, district number and religious affiliation.

4) It’s different. This isn’t so much a comment on the function of the map as it is on its uniqueness. There are multiple lists and even some charts and graphs showing the religious makeup of Congress, but other than this hideous, outdated and static map from BuzzFeed, I could not find the data presented as a map.

Why the map is broken:

1) It’s full of mistakes. Yes, the map isn’t accurate. For one thing, in the multi-denomination map, many of the Anglican/Episcopalian members’ districts are colored brown, the color for “other Christian,” instead of the correct green. Also, I found at least one congressman, David Valadao, whose party was misstated; he is a Republican, not a Democrat.

2) You can’t zoom. For much of the country, this isn’t a problem, but without a zoom feature, urban areas containing many small districts, including New York City, are difficult to examine.

3) No partisan breakdown on the map. If one reads the list or examines each district one by one, members’ parties are clearly listed, but there is no way to look at the breakdown of a religious affiliation by party on the map itself, with the exception of the Mormon/Jewish special feature. For example, if one wanted to see which Catholic members were Republicans and which were Democrats, one could have clicked that setting, and all Catholic Republican districts would appear red, all Catholic Democratic districts would appear blue and all non-Catholic districts would appear grey. Alas, this is not a feature, but it seems a rather obvious one. I rather like Pew’s presentation of the partisan breakdown, using a graphic that looks somewhat like the actual seats in Congress.

4) Where are the Lutherans? Full disclosure: I am not a Lutheran, but I found it odd that a denomination with so many members both in the House (21, versus 24 Presbyterians, who appear on the map in dark blue) and in the general population (there are nearly four times as many American Lutherans as American Anglicans/Episcopalians) was lumped in with “other Christian” on the map. Most of the Lutheran congressmen live in the Midwest, as do most American Lutherans overall, so this was a major missed opportunity to show this geographic trend.

Overall, this map was certainly an impressive undertaking on the part of the Post, but it is lacking in both accuracy and functionality. I would like to see a map that follows the Post‘s model that implements my recommendations so we can have a graphic that is truly representative of our representatives.


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