It never quite makes sense, watching the election play out. You see huge areas of red on a map—whole states and counties—while commentators quickly explain that populations aren’t accurately represented. It’s good information, but when we’re discussing real voting patterns, why are we looking at such maps in the first place?
John Nelson from IDV Solutions created a different map of 2012’s presidential election results with data pulled from Politico. Rather than color in whole blocs of the map based on the party of its voting majority, every 100 votes is represented by a dot, randomly dispersed within the county they were cast. So instead of red and blue blocs, we see something much closer to real people voting, and where.
"It’s a pretty old-school approach," Nelson admits, "but the super-high volume of dots is a newer capability. I don’t really see this method used all that much but I like the density nuance because it tells a more complete story."
That complete story shows that Wyoming, for however large and red it may appear on most election maps, is mostly a blank slate. It’s predominantly red, sure, but there are actually quite a few points of blue in there, too. Wyoming transforms from token red state to a Republican-dominated pool of independent thinkers that, at the end of the day, is just not that densely populated.
You can also see the voting trends between urban and suburban communities. Atlanta is a perfect example of this (as is almost every big city in Ohio, Nelson points out). The downtown is blue, maybe a bit purple, and it’s surrounded by a clear red ring. This trend repeats from the middle of the country all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. North or South makes no difference; it’s even occurring in the heart of Texas.
It would be refreshing to see this sort of map on CNN or MSNBC on election night. Maybe it shouldn’t be the standard, as we’re all still counting electoral votes, but pointillism could be a means to understand voting trends as they come in. Because while this graphic plays wonderfully on a computer screen, its necessary fidelity might not translate to a studio camera that’s filming a big touchscreen television. And can you imagine trying to tap on one of those tiny dots during a live national broadcast? In front of the suit-caged testosterone of an election-night Wolf Blitzer no less?