On the 11th of May last year, reporter Trey Yingst tweeted a framed map of the United States carried to the West Wing. It depicted the election results in 2016 showing reds and blues county by county.
The USA’s Rorschach Test
Some believe that the picture showing the dominance of red is the proof of the Conservative party’s dominance in the different levels of the government, while the Liberals interpreted the image as a distortion, because despite how widespread the red was, they had fewer voters, relatively.
Product engineer Ken Field says that both sides were correct. He says that a partisan perspective of the map is not the problem, but expecting the map to show the complete story. He says there are different kinds of maps—political maps, Texas illustrated map, election maps—showing results and outcomes, but they also show varying shades of truth.
It is understandable why the president wants the map displayed on the West Wing. After all, the obvious dominance of the red was a very imposing figure of their victory in the elections. However, Field continues, focusing on that single map alone may lead to the Republicans overestimating their advantages, and Democrats misunderstanding strategies to catch up. Field published a gallery of over thirty maps showing different stories about the 2016 election.
None of those maps are right, he says, but none of them are wrong either. They simply show how to interpret the results of the elections in different perspectives.
Blues and Reds
The value-by-alpha map shows the party’s vote share per county based on its opacity. It takes the county’s population into consideration, and not the number of votes alone. For example, a bright blue colour shows a highly populated area dominated by votes for the Democratic Party, where as a light pink indicates dominant votes for the Republican Party in a rather sparse population. The purple areas, combination of red and blue, show areas where there were narrow margins between the two.
What’s noticeable is that the red wall from Texas to North Dakota on the map rendered by Yingst was almost white, and everywhere else is almost purple—reminding us that the 2016 election outcome was a very close match. President Trump was up ahead by one percent or less because of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, but not as much as the first map suggested.