First, the traditional geographic map which denotes majority-vote party preference by state. Courtesy of 270toWin.
The problem with maps of this type is that they basically lack all nuance. While the colored states may represent vote totals following the conclusion of the election, it does not accurately represent the presidential horse-race. The 270toWin map does show the possibility that Nevada and Colorado may swing Democrat or Republican, but misses differences in Democrat vs. Republican vote totals in other states. Leading up to the election this obscures the fact that other states, such as Ohio and Florida, which may look clearly Democrat or clearly Republican at this stage have the potential to flip in the week.
Second, this next map does denote more of this nuance and thereby acknowledges how the map can change before November 8th. Courtesy of the Washington Post.
This Washington Post map provides further detail on the status of the presidential election. Instead of simply noting which party is currently winning in which states it also displays states which are and are not solidly Democrat and Republican, as well as which states have the potential to move in one direction or the other as the election moves closer. However, many important things are still missing, including the fact that this particular map does not note electoral college votes.
The third map explicitly takes into account electoral votes, and in doing so more accurately displays how the American electoral process works. Once again, courtesy of the Washington Post.
The map on the left is a standard geographic electoral map, then converted to a cartogram. In a cartogram, geographic space is translated to represent a thematic mapping variable, in this case electoral votes. By doing so “each diamond in a state represents an electoral college vote in a system in which states with smaller populations are overrepresented“. Another example of this type of map may be seen here, via the New York Times.
This cartogram also more accurately denotes party distribution by shrinking the expansive middle of the country which is predominantly Republican and expanding the smaller, but electoral-vote rich Northeast. As a further visual representation of this concept:
The cartogram still manages to miss some details simply due to the fact that it is a national map. Elections do not just occur on the national or state level. What happens on the county level within each state can be hugely important, especially as it pertains to the relation of the presidential election to down-ticket races.
This fourth map, courtesy of MIT, displays how the election may play out on a county-level basis.
This map does not take into account electoral votes and their tremendous importance, but does give a better idea of how individual states break down. Such a map can be deceiving, however, because such a map suffers from the same weakness as standard geographic maps. Namely, it does not take into account population density.
Another key weakness of all of these maps is that they take into account simple public opinion polls. And these polls can be, and have been, wrong in the past due to the difficulty in adequately sampling the American population. This is why many outlets have begun to rely on algorithms which calculate odds of winning based on an aggregation of the national polls as well as historical trends. The result of these algorithms are maps which provide odds of winning rather than potential state vote totals. Via FiveThirtyEight.com.
The problem with these “odds of winning” maps are that they can also be wrong. And they suffer from the same weaknesses as many of the other maps.
These are just a few examples of electoral maps and as noted, none are truly “correct”, they just provide a snapshot. There are other ways of examining the voting data:
And these newer methods of visually depicting election predictions may be more accurate because they take into account levels of analysis below the state level. They take population density into account. They take differences in vote totals into account rather than just the majority vote. But we still rely on the traditional geographic map because it’s familiar. More maps are more accurate and are therefore needed to more accurately convey the status of an election before the vote totals are final.
They also look cool.