Geography Electoral Geography
Nick Quinton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0019


Research in electoral geography began with analysis of the spatial patterns in vote returns during the early 20th century. This work established a tradition of spatial analysis that was later paired with quantitative methods. Electoral geography, then, experienced a modicum of popularity when geographers in the West relied heavily on quantitatively driven social inquiry during the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, as many scholars began to abandon these quantitative methodologies in the late 1960s and 1970s in favor of social theory, those practicing electoral geography stood stalwart in the established spatial analytic tradition. As a result, by the 1980s the vast majority of Western academics had left electoral geography to a small group of scholars. While the remaining practitioners still found outlets for their works in trade journals, publications in the most-prestigious journals were typically only in conjunction with events of special importance, such as unusual elections or contentious redistricting. Scholars did, however, alter the practice of electoral geography during this period, even if the changes, by and large, did not follow major shifts in the field of geography. Researchers expanded the scope of electoral geography beyond the analysis of spatial variation in vote returns to vote systems, redistricting, and the role of electoral processes in shaping social worlds. As scholars expanded the scope of electoral geography, however, important omissions remained. Of note are the paucity of research by women and a lack of attention to issues outside Western democracies. It is, then, that the field has been changed, if slowly, from one dominated by quantitative approaches and Western contexts to one dominated by scholarship that includes new approaches and contexts. It remains to be determined, however, if the changes to electoral geography will have meaningful impacts on broader trends in social theory and quantitative methods and yield a return to previous levels of popularity in academe.

General Overviews

Since the initial work in the field in Krehbiel 1916, and the effort in Prescott 1959 to formalize the field, research in electoral geography has been made more diverse and varied. Johnston, et al. 1990 captures this variety well. The most important volume for general reference of electoral geography when it was published, the assemblage of work therein set the current tone for breadth of theoretical approaches and methodological applications. Still, important aspects of social inquiry are left unaddressed, such as postcolonial and feminist perspectives. Secor 2004 provides a clear route to remedy some of these oversights with a feminist application, though too-few authors have applied the suggestions from this source. Other works are also worthy of note in this section. These include a compendium by the most prolific scholar of electoral geography, Ron Johnston (Johnston and Pattie 2006), of writings on the subject; Archer, et al. 1986, a chronicle of early work in electoral geography; the overview in Johnston 2005 of differences in Western approaches; and the early attempt to seriously insert social theory into geographic inquiry of elections, found in Taylor and Johnston 1979 (cited under Cleavages). The culmination of this great tradition, and in many ways the successor to Johnston, et al. 1990, is the Warf and Leib 2011 collection of research detailing issues throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century in electoral geography, from a variety of theoretical and methodological positions and locations around the world. This work maintains the tradition of wide boundaries for theory and methodology in electoral geography, while accentuating the central importance of social space in electoral processes.

  • Archer, J. Clark, Fred M. Shelley, and Ellen R. White. American Electoral Mosaics. Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers, 1986.

    Though concerned with elections in the United States, this work does provide a thorough and novel reading of the origins of electoral geography as a field of social inquiry in chapter 2. The authors also employ several statistical methods to assess electoral returns throughout the book, making this volume one of particular importance for quantitative applications in electoral geography.

  • Johnston, Ron. “Anglo-American Electoral Geography: Same Roots and Same Goals, but Different Means and Ends?” Professional Geographer 57.4 (2005): 580–587.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9272.2005.00500.x

    In this work the author relates specific methodological differences between the practice of electoral geography in the United States and the United Kingdom. The author also calls on electoral geographers in the United States to learn from studies developed in the United Kingdom. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Johnston, Ron, and Charles Pattie. Putting Voters in Their Place: Geography and Elections in Great Britain. Oxford Geographical and Environmental Study Series. London: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268047.001.0001

    The lead author in this work has contributed more publications to electoral geography than any other. This volume is an overview of these publications.

  • Johnston, Ron J., Fred M. Shelley, and Peter J. Taylor, eds. Developments in Electoral Geography. London: Routledge, 1990.

    This edited volume is the first of its kind in the field of electoral geography. Though published in 1990, the research presented throughout this collection represents the peak of theoretical and methodological sophistication of its time and place.

  • Krehbiel, Edward. “Geographic Influences in British Elections.” Geographical Review 2.6 (1916): 419–432.

    DOI: 10.2307/207512

    This article is one of the earliest works in electoral geography. Although the theories and methods are dated, the work does establish a bulkhead in academe for the field of electoral geography. This is, then, a must-read for those interested in the history of the subdiscipline. Available online by subscription.

  • Prescott, J. R. Victor. “The Function and Methods of Electoral Geography.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 49.3 (1959): 296–304.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1959.tb01615.x

    The author references disparate works on voting that share a common shortcoming, and he extends a general theory of electoral geography and relevant methods that make the study of elections relevant for political geographers, more generally. As such, this work is one of the first attempts to formalize electoral geography as a field of study. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Secor, Anna J. “Feminizing Electoral Geography.” In Mapping Women, Making Politics: Feminist Perspectives on Political Geography. Edited by Lynn A. Staeheli, Eleonore Kofman, and Linda J. Peake, 261–272. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2004.

    The author of this entry provides a critical intervention into research on electoral geography. This work provides a much-needed feminist reading on the practice of electoral geography.

  • Warf, Barney, and Jonathan Leib, eds. Revitalizing Electoral Geography. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

    This edited volume is a compendium of research in the field and should be the first stop for inquiries into electoral geography. Of critical importance are the multiple theoretical perspectives and methodologies that categorize the various works collected herein, as well as the varied geographic contexts introduced.

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