Infographic: A Grossly Distended Map Of America, Redrawn By Election Spending

As the 2012 campaign finally draws to a close, which states are receiving the most attention from outside groups?

As we reach the finish line of a seemingly infinite presidential campaign, the Obama and Romney campaigns are both nearing the $1 billion mark for fundraising. And that doesn’t even count spending by Super PACs and private interest groups–the real big spenders in this election.


NPR’s Adam Cole posted a pretty illuminating exercise in “creative cartography” yesterday, visualizing the U.S. map based on how much money is being spent in each state. It’s important to note that this is totally outside of any money coming from Obama or Romney’s own pockets. That’s right: Private groups are spending almost $6 per voter in Nevada alone.

Cole starts by giving us a baseline reading of what the U.S. looks like based on electoral votes: New York and California are giants compared to diminutive Wyoming or the Dakotas. Nothing we don’t already know. “What would this map look like if states were scaled based on the outside money (not even including the massive ad spending by the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney themselves) coming into the presidential race for political ads?” he wonders.

When Cole applies the same morphology to the map using data about outside spending between April and October, the map becomes totally unrecognizable. Florida, Ohio, and Virginia are receiving the most attention, with more than $20 million going to each (and almost double that for Florida). The big states are all a hazy purple shade, showing that both sides are doing their best via last-minute ads and outreach. Based on this map, Tuesday will come down to at most 12 states.

Even weirder? The map distorted based on spending per voter, which compares money spent versus per capita population. Nevada wins: Its six electoral votes make it important, despite how sparsely populated it is. “So if you’re lucky enough to live in the Granite State, congratulations,” writes Cole. “In some ways, your vote is a thousand times more valuable than the votes of your neighbors in Vermont.”

Check out Cole’s full visualization on NPR.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.