Fascinating maps of how and where Americans move may shed light on Palin and Obama's popularity

I am a charting and mapping nerd. During election times, when CNN puts up all those maps on the screen, I have an actual chartgasm.

I am a charting and mapping nerd. During election times, when CNN puts up all those maps on the screen, I have an actual chartgasm. So when I found Fortune's Where Americans Are Moving interactive map, I lost much of the morning to the clickety-clicky.

Oh, Baby, it was oh-so-good. Oh, yeah, county migration patterns. Oooh. Hose me down. Yeah... that's the ticket. Inward and outward patterns, yeah, do it some more... Ok, I'm better now. Whew!

It was also fascinating. The chart allows you to click on any county in the United States and see where Americans moved in 2008. Red lines indicate movement from out of a county and black lines indicate movement into a county. So, for example, here's the movement to and from my own Brevard County in Florida:

As you might expect, a lot of New Yawkers and people from the North East moved into Brevard while a reasonable number of others moved out of Brevard. Denise and I moved here in 2005. Since we came here from New Jersey (avoiding the cold), we fit right into Brevard's normal migration patterns.

Other migration patterns that are pretty much what you'd expect include the migration into and out of New York City.

Interestingly, the vast majority of New York moves are both to and from other blue states (although there is a smattering of moves to and from the Midwest).

Migration patterns from my old home of San Mateo County, California are interesting as well. I used to live in Foster City (just east of San Mateo) during the 1980s. San Mateo is at the top end of Silicon Valley, so it makes sense to see a lot of migration up to the Seattle area, and equally makes sense to see migration coming in from the New York and LA areas.

Where things start to get really interesting is when you look at some mid-western counties, particularly those that are long known to be conservative, red state counties. Take a look at these four counties:

These counties have very little cross-fertilization with the outside world. Brown County, in Nebraska, had no one move into or out of the county. Cherry County had one person move into the county, but only from the neighboring one. Russell County had a few people move around, but again, only to the nearest counties. Parmer Texas was quite insular as well, but it did have a few people who moved at least partially across the state.

So that got me wondering about our presidents. President Obama was born in Honolulu, and as you can see from the following map, Hawaii is a very active state when it to both people moving in and moving out:

President Bush, on the other hand, while born in New Haven, Connecticut calls Crawford, Texas his home. Crawford's interesting because while McLennan County isn't as busy as, say, Honolulu, it does see people moving in and out from various parts of the country -- although, notably, none from the North East.

Bill Clinton came from Hope, Arkansas. What's fascinating about Clinton is we all know he went on to study at Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale. But take a look at the migration patterns where he grew up:

Hempstead County is a very insular place, far more so than Crawford, Texas. I'm working on a theory here, but first, let's take a look at one more home town, Sarah Palin's Wasilla, Alaska:

Wasilla, located in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, also doesn't have much migration, but it sees people moving to Washington State and from the Midwest. It's not as insular as Clinton's Hope, Arkansas, but not as cosmopolitan as even Crawford, Texas.

Clinton, Bush, and Palin are all people of two worlds. They come from or identify with small towns, but have also experienced and are equally comfortable with metropolitan environments. These three politicians also have a very broad appeal. It explains, in part, why Bill Clinton was so popular with Americans in small towns, as well as the so-called East Coast liberal elite.

It also may explain a bit about why small town America gravitates so strongly to Sarah Palin -- and not to Barack Obama.

On the other hand, sometimes a map is just a map, and a chart is just a chart.

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