Saturday, May 28, 2011

Digital Resources: U.S. Electoral Data, 1787-2008

Given the important relationships between business and the state (see the theme for the 2012 Business History Conference meeting), business and economic historians are often interested in political data. For the United States, more and more of this information has been digitized and is freely available on-line. 
   In 2008 the University of Richmond launched "Voting America: United States Politics, 1840-2008." That site uses interactive maps and county election data to allow both narrow and broad analysis of presidential elections since 1840, and also of some congressional elections. The site was redesigned and relaunched in 2011, and the project managers continue to add data and refine the presentation. (Researchers can also find county-level data for U.S. presidential and congressional elections, 1840-1972, at the ICPSR site).
   At about the same time, "A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns, 1787-1825" appeared. Presented by the American Antiquarian Society and Tufts University with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the data is based on the work of researcher Philip J. Lampi, who has been collecting election return data for over forty years. As the project organizers explain:
When this project is complete it will include all 25 states and territories that existed at the time. Please keep in mind that this project is a work in progress. The elections for the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina and Rhode Island contain all of the data that Philip Lampi has collected and are now available in Version 1.0. All other states are still being worked on and elections will be made available as data entry is completed. . . . The data is very diverse and involves all offices from the Federal to the local levels including Presidential elections, town clerk elections and everything in between. . . . The available election returns are fully searchable by such key index points as year, geographical constituency, office, names of candidates, and party labels.
In addition to searching the database on-line, users may also download all or part of it to manipulate on their own. The project is ongoing, with just over half of Lampi's data digitized as of December 2010.

   The "New Nation Votes" information is particularly significant, because much of it previously has been so inaccessible. Before the early nineteenth century, election records were routinely destroyed, and in the new nation voting itself had none of the mechanisms of the modern era. Lampi combed thousands of newspapers, many of them held by the American Antiquarian Society, to search out and codify election data.
   An account of Philip Lampi's work and the efforts to digitize his data can be found in this issue of the NEH magazine, Humanities.