(UPDATE: New cartogram for 2012 election. Click here: Track Election Night 2012 With This Electoral Cartogram)
One of the curiosities of American elections is that when they color in the map on election night as to who won what state, it really doesn’t tell us anything. The trouble comes from the ironic reality that most of our largest states in area are actually among the smallest in population, and thus of limited electoral influence.
The difference is easily seen in this standard map from the 2004 election:
Versus one that is proportioned based on the number of electoral votes:
Yeah, it looks weird but it is a much more accurate representation of the election…which though clearly still a red victory, doesn’t present the illusion that it was a landslide.
I always find it humorous that people talk about red and blue states, when in fact most of the nation is rather purple, as we can see in this map that shows proportion of votes as a range from red-to-purple-to-blue for every county:
Again, this is sort of skewed because some counties are very sparse and others are very densely populated. Let’s go to another distorted map to even out the proportions:
When you compare this map to the first one side-by-side:
It’s easy to see how our view of the political realities are easily confused by just one inaccurate image. Even though this election was a red victory, the fact of the matter is that the country is by-and-large purple. Yes, there are pockets of blue and veins of red, but for the most part, we’re pretty purple.
So, in that spirit, I encourage everyone to grab the image I have below to track the election:
In this image, each square represents one electoral vote. Instead of going by the map posted on each of the networks, color this in instead. You can use hi-liters, crayons, pens, pencils, or if you have an artistic bent, watercolors. The thing is, you will be way better informed on Wednesday morning than your co-workers as to how close an election or how big a landslide it was. Numbers are one thing, but the visual really tells the tale.
Here’s the electoral cartogram of the 2008 presidential election:
And by way of contrast, here is what the county map looks like:
It really does go to show that when you want to look at data in a meaningful way, you need to understand the important variables, which in the case of the electoral college would be population density/representation and not land area.