Data visualization has always been a remarkably powerful tool with the ability to inform, educate— and mislead. In simplifying what would otherwise be overly complicated and overwhelming stats and data into a visual narrative, data visualization also has the potential to tell its own story, one that may not entirely be objective or true. During the US presidential elections, many of us followed the customary red vs. blue map that relayed the country’s voting trends by state or electoral. But is this an inaccurate and outdated way of portraying the population’s sentiments? Data experts say yes.
Greg Albers created the following alternative representation of US state votes for the 2020 US presidential election, which shows each state as a shade of purple (red and blue mix) depending on its ratio of Democrat to Republican votes instead of simply choosing the color of the majority in that state. According to Albers, this reveals “the full, nuanced spectrum of the country’s political standings” and “decreased study participants’ perceptions of political polarization.”
In 2019, Belgian data scientist Karim Douïeb created an alternative version of the USA’s 2016 election map in response to a tweet from Lara Trump. She posted an image of the USA featuring a few blue shapes lost in a sea of red as proof that America was inherently Republican. However, the map inaccurately portrayed the sheer acres of empty land in rural counties supporting Trump as Trump’s actual votes, instead of representing the few votes coming from the few people who live there. His version, widely shared as this gif with the quote, “Land doesn’t vote, people do” shows people’s votes by population rather than by state, which gives a clearer picture of how many actually voted for each party. Here is his rendition for the 2020 US presidential elections:
Back in 2017, a product engineer at the mapping software company, Esri, and author of the guidebook for mapmakers, Cartography, Ken Fields created an extensive gallery of more than 30 alternative maps, each designed to tell a different story about what happened on the night of the US presidential elections in 2016. Speaking about the maps, Fields says, “All of these maps show different versions of the truth. None are right, and none are wrong, but they all allow you to interpret the results differently.”