The actual location of each state doesn’t affect whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will win: It’s what happens to each state’s electoral college votes, and whether there are enough cumulatively to get one candidate or another into the White House. If that’s the case, is a map the best way to show the data?
A map of the lower 48 is a poor way of showing how close the race is (or isn’t). Many large states have a small population, or few electoral college votes. They dominate maps. Compare Montana’s size and electoral college votes to Florida and New Jersey below.
There are two ways to solve this problem.
First of all, don’t bother showing maps. The Wall Street Journal’s polling home page doesn’t have any maps; you have to click deeper into the page to find them. We all know where Ohio, Florida and the other swing states are, so we don’t need the map. Just show us the data!
A second option is to show cartograms. These are maps which are sized according to the metric, not the geographic area. They do a great job at showing data accurately, but there is a price to be paid: the map no longer represents reality. Cartograms do represent a good compromise.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, FiveThirtyEight
The diagram above shows the WSJ (left) and FiveThirtyEight (right) cartograms. One thing to note: There’s not a standard cartogram, so you have to relearn the distribution of the states in each one. The WSJ uses squares, and FiveThirtyEight uses hexagrams.