The Terrible Thing About Our Election Maps

Written by Kally Pan on Jun 08, 2016

There’s a big problem with our recent elections… and it’s the maps. Sure they are geographically accurate, but all the red/blue maps that are rolled out by CNN, Fox News, and countless other media outlets are missing the point: the primary purpose of the map is to show the votes won by the candidates, not the geographic boundaries of the states. For the purpose of showing the weight of votes, the maps typically used are just awful!

These maps all violate the first rule of data visualization: choose the visualization that frames the most important point you are trying to make with the data. In the case of votes, the boundaries actually serve to make the states more identifiable, but the area of the state unintentionally distorts the value of the states in votes. Take for example these maps:

The terrible thing about our election maps blog 1

The terrible thing about our election maps blog 1

Size actually does matter!


From a first look, it’s easy to get the impression from the top map that votes are dominated by the sea of red prominently splashed in the middle. The map on the bottom does a much better job of displaying the weight of each state in terms of votes at a glance.

There’s a great video from Vox.com that really nails this issue and goes through some interesting solutions too. Best of all, it’s only about 2 mins long, so it’s very efficient!

We’ve linked to other videos from Vox in the past, so if you have time, check out our post about the right place to start your Y-axis.

Cheers!