Have you ever tried to use an election map in your data visualization project? The traditional election map can easily become accidentally misleading. We’re sharing some new ideas emerging in the dataviz world that are trying make election maps more honest.
Election Map Hijinx
We are seeing so many election map examples in the news leading up to the presidential election. But some of these maps seem to be telling a different story than the number of electoral votes pledged to each candidate.
Misleading Map Example
Take a look at this map. Can you tell who won from a glance?
How about if you drill down to the county level?
These examples are from Larry Weru’s map case study. He suggests that adding neutralizing colors to break votes down by voters, rather than county trends is a solution for bringing fairness to the map.
Weru adds opacity to show the concentration of votes by county. This solution is certainly more fair than the state by state map. But is it easier to consume?
Election Map Rx
To quickly tell the story, it’s possible the data might be more effectively communicated with text.
The idea may seem basic, but it communicates the main idea of many election charts: a scorecard.
Using text at times instead of charts is an idea that dataviz expert Cole Nussbaumer put forth in her recent book, Storytelling with Data.
Election Map Alternatives and Solutions
Cartograms are maps in which a variable is substituted area. This will distort the traditional shapes on the map.
An example of cartogram maps with presidential election data was discussed on Mother Jones after the last election. Even a quote from this article points out an obvious usability issue with these maps:
“Though the map might make you question your cocktail intake, the increase in blue over red seems a more accurate depiction of how Tuesday went down.”
Hex Tile Grid Maps
Hex tile grid maps are becoming more common. These maps give geographic areas such as states the same spatial value. They use color values to differentiate data for each area.
The example above from Tableau shows a possible precursor to the hex map, which is the tile grid.
A recent discussion from NPR covers a notable challenge with hex and tile grid maps: positioning the tiles. Depending on the geographic area being represented, positioning tiles can be confusing as it differs from the standard representation users are accustomed to seeing.
Pixel Area Maps
One election map solution that blends the cartogram and grid concepts is a pixel area map.
This assigns a number of pixels to a shape based on the number of votes in an area. And it is not limited to a grid, so it can be shaped a bit more like the map on which it is based.
This example is from Style.org. The case study goes on to explore using gradients on each pixel area to show the balance of votes between two candidates in each region.
Superimposed Results on Regional Map
Style.org is also the source of another option for visualizing voting data: superimposing results over a geographic map.
This shows the number of votes in each region proportionally, like in a bubble chart. But instead of being on a grid, the bubbles are placed over their respective region on a geographic map.
The superimposed data idea is further detailed by showing results for each ballot or party in this manner, next to one another.
An additional example of this idea can be found in the AIGA archives.
It is from the New York Times and it explores how counties mattered significantly in the 2004 presidential election.
County Size Maps
A similar concept for superimposing regions is the Iowa counties map, also from Style.org.
This map helps the user identify where a win may come from by highlighting both areas that a candidate won by a large margin and areas where the candidate one with a large voting population.
3D Election Models
If you want to go way outside the box with your visualization, you could try a tilted 3D model, as proposed in this Princeton project.
This type of visualization might be helpful for showing extremes, but slight gradations in height are somewhat difficult to distinguish.
Try Making Your Own Election Map
Inspired by the election maps you’ve seen here? You’re in luck: we’re bringing the power of map making to the people. Check out our interactive Fantasy Election Map Maker. You can set your own candidates and vote numbers, and share it with your friends.