A new map aims to shed light on a fundamental preference that divides people. It’s not liberal or conservative, urban or rural, or crunchy or creamy. No, it’s whether people prefer to be hot or cold. Are they more likely to turn on the heater as soon as the days start to get shorter or blast the air conditioning right after the last of the snow finally melts? Everyone has one answer, and it’s a factor that affects where people choose to live and how happy they are where they live. It makes sense, then, to map that information onto a map of the United States, which has a great deal of climate diversity.
(Info)graphic artist Matt Shirley had this idea, but while he asked the right question the way he answered it is wanting. Shirley’s data source was a poll his 390,000+ Instagram followers, a decidedly unscientific sample of the country as a whole. And while he doesn’t explicitly claim that it’s anything more, that he plotted the responses of thousands (maybe—we don’t know the number of people who replied) of people onto a map where 328 million people live feels just a tad like it’s suggesting more than it should.
And beyond the sampling issue, there’s the fact that what people consider to be hot or cold varies drastically. “Hot” probably means triple-digit heat to Arizonans while it might mean the 80s to Alaskans. And while temperatures in the 20s might be damn cold to Floridians, they can be shorts weather to New Englanders. So while the hot or cold question is a good one, a better way to ask it would take into account what people mean when they use those terms.
With those considerations, Shirley’s map does reflect what you might expect about the temperature preferences of Americans. People who prefer to be hot live in the southern half of the country and those who prefer to be cold live in the northern half. A few states buck these trends — Minnesota and the Dakotas up north and Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi in the south — but those diversions could simply be because of a low number of responses from those states (again, we don’t know).
So while it’s tempting to point at this map and draw conclusions about how miserable everyone in the Dakotas must be, it’s more responsible to trust it as much as you might trust any other viral Reddit post as a source of news, not that much.