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I like this way of mapping electoral college votes

This post is by Phil Price, not Andrew. 

I like maps — everybody likes maps; who doesn’t like maps? — but any map involves compromises. For mapping electoral votes, one thing you sometimes see is to shrink or expand states so they have area proportional to electoral votes (or to population, which is almost, but not quite, the same thing). I like the idea, but in practice the maps usually look so distorted and odd that I find them hard to read…except for this one. I like this NY Times map a lot. The best compromise I’ve seen. I think the thing that really makes it work is that they embrace the blockiness of it: they don’t just shrink or swell the states to have the right area, they make them out of squares. 

I think the shapes of New York and Florida could be improved, and it’s weird to have Georgia displaced to the west; I wonder if they tried putting Georgia where it belongs. I think I’d rather have Florida stick up into where Georgia is on this map, than have to move Georgia off the coast. Even so, Florida would have to shift downward, which they are presumably trying to avoid… my gut feeling is that that part of the map could be improved, but I could be wrong. In any case that’s a quibble, I think this is good. 

Map of electoral votes in each state


  1. Andrew says:

    I don’t like all the white space; to me, it gives a misleading impression that states are distinct from each other. I prefer similar maps I’ve seen that have the states all fitting together, and it can work even better using little hexagons rather than squares.

  2. Isak says:

    Am I blind or does it not say anywhere where this is taken from or who “they” are?

  3. Yuling says:

    Besides the classic criticism of maps, I think another big confusion from a “forecast map” is its incapability to manifest correlations, which in general will lead to an over-confident interpretation. A fully-blue-colored-but-highly-correlated forecast is not necessarily more confident than a mixed-colored-but-independent one.

  4. Marc says:

    No question that almost all political maps would be improved by population weighting. This one is not perfect, but then nothing is.

    A bigger issue I had with the networks maps was that they colored states (and counties in the detailed maps) based on who was ahead in the current tally. In some cases this was based on <10% of data, so basically random. Even when more data came in, the order of counting (election day first vs. absentee first) makes such a big difference this year that coloring anything that isn't already projected is misleading.

    By now, there are only a few uncalled states, and most sources are keeping them grey/white, so it's no longer a big issue.

  5. Matt says:

    “I think the shapes of New York and Florida could be improved, and it’s weird to have Georgia displaced to the west; I wonder if they tried putting Georgia where it belongs. I think I’d rather have Florida stick up into where Georgia is on this map, than have to move Georgia off the coast.”

    It’s all a matter of perspective. GA’s borders align with those of Ohio, and that seems to be reflected here. Points to the east in GA (Tybee Island; 80.8457° W) are similarly situated to the eastern border of Ohio (Youngstown, 80.6495° W); same to the west (Columbus GA, 84.9877° W; Cincinnati OH; 84.5120° W). Alabama is almost entirely due south of Indiana and that also seems to be reflected here. I can see your point about the coastal part, but when your basic building blocks are squares of a fixed size, fidelity’s gotta give somewhere.

  6. Jonathan (another one) says:

    The WSJ version does away with the white space, but that makes the Mountain Time Zone look like someone is stepping on it.

  7. Dan F. says:

    Georgia should be to the west. Atlanta is west of Cincinnati and Detroit. Savannah is due south of Cleveland.

    • Carlos Ungil says:

      It’s difficult to position Georgia if we would also like it to be between FL and SC. But I agree that “have Florida stick up into where Georgia is, move Georgia off the coast” doesn’t seem an improvement.

    • Phil says:

      There’s no way to preserve all spatial relationships. You can find dozens of places on the map where cities are misplaced in north-south or east-west orientation; I don’t have any problem adding one more.

      To me, it’s a bigger problem that on the NYT map Tennessee is west of Georgia instead of being north of it, and South Carolina is east of Georgia instead of being north of it. If I were to try to make up a guiding principle, it’s to acknowledge that you can’t preserve the spatial relationship between cities but you can try to do it between states, and it’s a state-level map so you should do that. But that’s a back-formed solution in the sense that I didn’t start with the principle, I started with the fact that I want Georgia to be south of South Carolina and south of Tennessee and I’m trying to find something that sounds like a good guiding principle that would support it. Really all I can say is that I don’t like that portion of the map and that I do think it can be improved as far as I’m concerned. But it’s not awful and if other people like it the way it is, well, OK, what can I say, the map requires compromises and people can differ about which ones are best.

  8. Oliver C. Schultheiss says:

    Hi Andrew,

    if you like the NYT plot, then you might like the SPIEGEL plot even more, with its hexagons instead of simple blocks:

    Scroll down a bit, then you’ll see it.


    • Phil says:

      No no, Andrew doesn’t like the NYT plot, I’m the one who likes the NYT plot.

      I think the hexagon plots do a better job of allowing one to judge the proportions, but the blocky NYT one is much better at letting me pick out states. The hexagon ones are very visually confusing to me, when used for that purpose; I agree with jim on this.

      There’s a large element of personal preference here. I don’t dislike the hex plots, but I prefer the NYT.

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