High Turnout of 2020 Election Poses Data Visualization Difficulty

During these last few weeks, we have been interacting with more data visualization than we are perhaps conscious of. The image of the US map now seared into our brains, peppered by red and blue rectangles, is a gleaming example of the power of visualization to communicate high stakes information to a massive audience.

Often, election maps focus on changes to vote margin. Meaning that areas colored red are where Republicans improved their margin and areas colored blue are where Democrats improved their margin. However, that visualization can be misleading on who actually won in those counties.

According to the article on Medium.com, “For instance, if Democrats win a county by 70% in 2016 but by only 60% in 2020, it shows up red on such maps, even if each party ultimately turned out more voters in that county.

The maps that rely on past data to inform its current data visualization technique were challenged by the larger pool of new voters in this election. Usually, the depicted shifts in margin come from a more stable pool of “regular” voters, yet this is not the case in 2020. The article notes that we must wait many more months to know the full story as states update their voting records and political scientists can conduct more research.

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