Graphical Representations of Voting Results

Matt pointed me to this paper by Robert Vanderbei:

We describe and illustrate various ways to represent election results graphically. The advantages and disadvantages of the various methods are discussed. While there is no one perfect way to fairly represent the outcomes, it is easy to come up with methods that are superior to those used in recent elections.

The coolest thing in the paper are some 3-color maps. Here’s 1992: blue is Clinton, red is Bush, and green is Perot:


It has the usual problem that large sparsely-populated areas are overrepresented but otherwise is ok, and certainly provides some interesting information. Vanderbei has some interesting discussion of the choice of colors for displaying these scales.

My other thoughts on the paper:

1. What’s with the lower-case “democratic” and “republican”? It’s standard to write these in caps.

2. I really hate those so-called “cartograms” (p.10 of the paper) since they draw attention to the distortion (the distribution of population) rather than the votes, which is really what we want to see.

3. I still like this map, which unfortunately isn’t in the paper:


4. For the maps by Congressional district (page 11 of the paper), I’d prefer to put one dot per district rather than shading. The shading overemphasizes large areas (as usual) and also adds another distracting feature of drawing attention to the shapes of the districts, which is not the main point of interest.

That said, I do often present colored-state maps myself, because it is a clear way of presenting the information, despite all the problems in interpretation.

4 thoughts on “Graphical Representations of Voting Results

  1. I rather like this short paper on the subject – K. W. Haemer. Area bias in map presentation. The American Statistician, 3(2):19–19, 1949. People have been struggling with these issues for a long time!

  2. Good blog post. I was about to suggest shading by congressional district – since the boundaries control for population even if the size of the shaded units does not – but your point about dots is even better.

    What do you think of cartograms that vary the visual renderings of jurisdictions by population?

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