Anybody trying to illustrate how Americans voted in the 2016 election — or any presidential election, for that matter — are confronted with the problem that while the Electoral College votes by state, very few people live in very big swaths of land in the rural parts of the country. The map often ends up looking very red, even if America is actually almost evenly divided between red and blue.
The webcomic XKCD — the brainchild of Randall Munroe, known for an irreverent but mathematical bent — has cracked this riddle better than maybe anyone before, accurately representing how different parts of the country voted as well as how many people actually live there.
With its trademark stick figures, and the novel approach of spreading them across an American map, XKCD gives a clearer picture of where the voters in the United States are located and which way they voted in 2016.
Here is Alan Cole, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, explaining what this map gets right that its predecessors struggle with:
First, it understands the true purpose of using a map in this context. It's mostly as an indexing tool for human brains to know where to look for things. It's secondarily to group regions together.— Alan Cole (@AlanMCole) January 8, 2018
The purpose of maps is not, however, to give empty land in west Texas as much weight as populated land in New Jersey, as this other map does. That might be appropriate if you were planning a road trip, but not for counting people.— Alan Cole (@AlanMCole) January 8, 2018
XKCD fixes that by using white space. pic.twitter.com/dlJ16Qbpld
NYT did a good article on how they've grappled with these issues, linked below. But many efforts to solve the weighting problem in the past were aesthetically... displeasing. https://t.co/b9uX68GSie pic.twitter.com/gcGSqUUfCx— Alan Cole (@AlanMCole) January 8, 2018
NYT also came up with the white space idea (and I'm sure others have, as well) but this effort uses margins, not gross totals, which could potentially mislead.— Alan Cole (@AlanMCole) January 8, 2018
It gives Oklahoma more red, physically on the map, than California has. But California has more Republicans. pic.twitter.com/AXQriCZUDz
So what I like about this map is that gives an accurate sense of the popular vote, and an accurate sense of how both coalitions are actually distributed throughout the country. It is the most elegant and informative election map I have seen. pic.twitter.com/AbsUJzOdbM— Alan Cole (@AlanMCole) January 8, 2018