"I've used the Google to bring up maps," George W. Bush shared in 2006. "I kinda like to look at the ranch." Four years later, Google Maps is still the best resource for ranch-gazing from Washington, but now the site has a fantastic new feature that will be far more valuable to those in politics trying to dial in to more consequential matters across the country.
The Google Maps team is up with a 2010 election mashup that shades every House, Senate, and governor's race according to ratings from Cook, CQ, Rothenberg, RCP, and Sabato. When a user visits the site (maps.google.com/2010elections), it randomly uses one of the ratings firms, and then users can click on a race and toggle through each of the predictions.
So, for example, W can click on his Crawford-area district and see that Democrat Chet Edwards' reelection prospects are rated "lean GOP" by four of the five agencies. It's the only place where he would be able explore the contours of the electoral map, learn the ratings for a race, and research the candidates, all in one stop.
The mashup is the latest example of Google's increasing importance in politics, although it was the brainchild of the Maps division in New York, not the policy offices in Washington. The idea was hatched by Google Maps marketer Jesse Friedman, who created the project in the "20 percent time" that Google affords employees to pursue creative projects.
A self-described map geek and armchair political junkie, Freidman calls the mashup of Google Maps and elections a "no-brainer" and says he hopes it will encourage voting. "Google devotes a lot of resources to doing what we can to help voters be better educated and make participation easier," he said in an interview at Google's offices in New York on Monday.
To this end, they've also developed a tool at the Google Election Center "where you can plug in your home address and get the address of and directions to your polling place, and in some cases see the full ballot that you will be voting," according to Friedman. They also offer a feature where users can create their own maps with Census demographic data through Google Fusion Tables.
But I'm most excited about their work on 2012 redistricting, which Friedman notes will be the first time new lines are cut in the era of Google Maps. If their product is anything like the 2010 midterm map, it'll be the go-to resource for that election cycle.