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What do interactive election maps say about us?

November 3, 2008

Did you see Fred Armisen’s skit about election maps on Saturday Night Live? It made me think about how dependent I have become on interactive media in understanding our electoral system. Recent elections have clearly demonstrated that the popular vote is not the final say in U.S. elections. But comprehending how votes in the Electoral College will play out is sometimes hard to comprehend (i.e. who remembers how many electoral votes Nevada has?). Back in the day in 2000, commentators like Tim Russert relied on white boards (pictured right). Nowadays it seems like every major corporate media outlet has a map. The best part of these maps is their interactivity and the game-playing aspect.  I’ve probably spent too long fiddling with them, imagining different scenarios. Perhaps it’s my own love of maps that make them so important to me. But I do think they reveals something about the way “Old Media” is trying to harness new technology to capture a larger audience. National Public Radio

Above is my favorite: the National Public Radio map. Today when I went to get a screen shot to share with you, I noticed that they no longer list any toss up states: big news itself. I like the option in the bottom right that enables the user to project their own results and the tabs to switch between President, Senate and House. NPR seems to base their projections on polls as well as their commentators’ views. Fox News

The unusual thing about the Fox News map is how there’s no initial shading. Is it because their favored candidate is behind in the polls? I do like the way that the map has the option to zoom in on counties within states. But somehow the set up doesn’t seem so user-friendly… and perhaps this is intential? CNN

CNN’s map looks much like the others but it has an interesting bar graph along the top. I always wondered if the person who decided to assign red and blue to either party, did so to avoid old cliches like “Reds” (Did Russert come up with it?). But with CNN’s bar graph, we’re back to “left” and “right.” CNN also seems to have the most toss-up states, i.e. Montana and North Dakota are yellow here (wait, doesn’t “yellow” also imply “cowardly”?). The New York Times

The Old Grey Lady has led the pack in developing multipmedia tools. The New York Times also has the bar graph but is less liberal with its toss-up states. I like how you can click on each state and below the map, a wealth of statistical information appears.

Other great maps on blogs:

Regardless of which map is most user-friendly or informative, I find myself making my plans for Election Night hinging on my access to these web-based tools.For example, do I go to a rally where I can feel part of a larger movement sans wireless, relying on white boards or unleash my inner geek, stay close to my laptop and play with these maps, imagining hundreds of different outcomes until the final results come in?

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