Election Maps Are Everywhere. Don’t Let Them Fool You.

Ever since winning the 2016 election, President Trump has reveled in displaying a map of the results: the United States awash in a sea of sprawling rural red counties, rimmed and dotted with islands of blue urban centers. The map has bolstered the notion among his followers that the vast majority of the country is with him.

Territorially speaking, they’re not wrong. But elections are decided by people and votes, not acreage, which makes these kinds of election maps terribly misleading. And this is just one of several reasons this visual representation of our elections is a particularly bad choice. Red and blue election maps turn out to be a pernicious combination of data visualization pitfalls, optical illusions, and divisive psychology. As a result, they distort our understanding of the political landscape, exaggerate our differences, and may even help increase polarization.

I worked with the New York Times Opinion section’s visual journalism team to put together an interactive piece showing exactly how these maps can deceive. View the story here.

Author: Betsy Mason

Betsy is a freelance writer and editor specializing in science and cartography based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work appears in numerous publications including National Geographic, Science, Nature, WIRED, Outside, Science News, Scientific American, Discover, and New Scientist.

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