Infographic: 156 Years Of Election Data At Your Fingertips

An interactive chart visualizes party affiliations, congressional and presidential elections, and more, sorted state-by-state, year-by-year, since 1856. Prepare to lose an afternoon.

Politics are a game of strategy. And while we often think we understand how that game is played, with the map carved up into blocks of red and blue like a giant Risk board come to life, a new infographic by Felix Gonda revels in the process’s pure complication and the staggering wealth of information it produces.


Balance of Power is an interactive visualization examining the results of presidential and congressional elections from 1856 to today, supplemented with data pulled from Gallup on party affiliations since 1972. That’s 156 years of U.S. political history, playing out in front of your eyes. Here’s how it works:

The inner-most circle is the presidential election. The stars encompassing it can be highlighted, breaking down the results (or projected results, if you’re looking at this year) in each state. If you’re looking at 2012, you’ll see a month-by-month timeline ring. Dragging its tab around the circle allows you to see the day-by-day flow of polling data (piped in via Huffington Post’s Pollster tool), including Mitt Romney’s recent surge as the race tightened this month.

The next ring represents Senate seats, and then we see the House of Representatives. And in the final, outermost layer, we have the affiliations of the entire electorate–the parties to which voters align themselves.

Still with me? So here’s where it gets nuts. A timeline selector in the lower left of the image allows you to cycle through this same dataset for every election in the past 156 years (that is, barring the 2012 polling breakdown and the electorate party affiliation data before 1972).

Scrubbing that timeline from 1856, you can watch a very fluid animation of U.S. political history unfolding. It’s a mini movie, telling a story of the death of the three-party system (save for Ross Perot’s big push in the ’90s), the crazy landslides like Nixon’s in 1972, and the weird political climate that exists today–when a relatively high 43% of voters would rather not declare for any political party, even in the absence of an independent third party. What’s that say about the state of democracy and society? Are we all independent thinkers, or are we just afraid of labels? Are we too worried (perhaps rightfully) that voting independent is wasting a vote? Do we just like to complain about things? Is the mix of Gallup and Huffington Post polling Gonda used skewing the results?

I just don’t know. But after getting lost in this infographic, it will be easy to offer up a conspiracy theory of your own.


See it here.

[Hat tip: PopSci]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.