Nov. 8 is the Super Bowl for election maps, when red-and-blue geographical representations of the United States fill the front pages of news websites by night and are stamped into newspapers the next morning.

This kind of map is common in almost every election: 50 states (and the District), two colors, one winner. Despite its ubiquity, it is profoundly flawed.

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These maps say only one thing: Some states are bigger than others. In a presidential election, how much bigger the state of Wyoming is than New Jersey isn’t relevant to the outcome, which is based on how electoral votes are apportioned.

If you chart the states by electoral votes, a more accurate picture of which states will elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton emerges.

GEOGRAPHIC MAP

Six Western

states

Five Northeastern

states

CARTOGRAM OF ELECTORAL VOTES

Six Western

states

Five Northeastern

states

GEOGRAPHIC MAP

CARTOGRAM OF ELECTORAL VOTES

Six Western

states

Five Northeastern

states

Six Western

states

Five Northeastern

states

In contrast to a standard geographic map, this  cartogram shrinks the country's expansive Republican center and exaggerates the small, electoral-vote-rich Northeast. The Post designed this cartogram for its 50-state poll, and it’s not alone in trying to solve the big-being-small and small-being-big problem.

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But this solution shows just one way of looking at the election. Each diamond in a state represents an electoral college vote in a system in which states with smaller populations are overrepresented.

To understand where people voted, one must look at popular vote totals for states during the 2012 election. Take New Jersey, where 3,640,292 votes were cast in 2012, a number roughly equivalent to the number of votes cast in:

Red is built-up areas

N.D.

Mont.

S.D.

Idaho

Wyo.

Neb.

Utah

200 miles

N.J.

Red is built-up areas

CANADA

North Dakota

Montana

Minnesota

South Dakota

Idaho

Wyoming

Nebraska

Nevada

100 miles

Utah

Kansas

N.J.

CANADA

Red is built-up areas

North Dakota

Montana

Minnesota

Fargo

Bismarck

Helena

Billings

South Dakota

Idaho

Rapid City

Sioux Falls

Boise

Idaho Falls

Wyoming

Casper

Nebraska

Omaha

Cheyenne

Lincoln

Nevada

Salt Lake City

100 miles

Newark

Utah

Kansas

Trenton

N.J.

Atlantic

City

The votes cast in these seven states total just 250,000 more votes than in New Jersey.

At the county level, the divide between area and population is magnified. Six New Jersey counties near New York City accounted for more than a third of all the votes cast in that state.

If you look at the country’s two largest cities, the size imbalance from population density balloons.

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

4,303,731

Los Angeles

Red is

built-up

areas

Channel Islands

not shown

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

25 miles

3,609,699

Long Island

NYC

LOS ANGELES

COUNTY

Pasadena

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

Los Angeles

4,303,731

Anaheim

Long Beach

Red is built-up areas

ORANGE

COUNTY

Newport Beach

25 miles

Channel

Islands

not shown

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

3,609,699

The Bronx

SUFFOLK

COUNTY

Manhattan

Queens

NASSAU

COUNTY

Brooklyn

Staten Island

Red is built-up areas

The Bronx

SUFFOLK

COUNTY

LOS ANGELES

COUNTY

Manhattan

Queens

NASSAU

COUNTY

Pasadena

Brooklyn

Los Angeles

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

VOTES CAST IN

THESE AREAS

Staten Island

4,303,731

3,609,699

Anaheim

Long Beach

ORANGE

COUNTY

Newport Beach

25 miles

Channel

Islands

not shown

Nine counties in and around New York City and Los Angeles combine to make up 7.9 million of the 129 million votes cast in 2012, just 260,000 votes short of votes cast in these states:

Red is built-up areas

N.D.

Mont.

S.D.

Idaho

Wyo.

Neb.

Nev.

Utah

Kan.

Okla.

200 miles

N.M.

Los Angeles

New York and

Long Island

Red is built-up areas

CANADA

Washington

North Dakota

Montana

Minnesota

Oregon

South Dakota

Idaho

Wyoming

Iowa

Nebraska

New York

and Long

Island

Nevada

Los Angeles

Utah

Kansas

200 miles

California

Oklahoma

Arizona

Texas

New Mexico

MEXICO

CANADA

Washington

North Dakota

Fargo

Montana

Minnesota

Bismarck

Helena

Billings

South Dakota

Oregon

Sioux Falls

Boise

Idaho

Rapid City

Wyoming

Idaho Falls

Casper

Iowa

Nebraska

Omaha

Cheyenne

Lincoln

Salt Lake

City

Provo

Reno

Los Angeles

New York and

Long Island

Nevada

Kansas City

Utah

Kansas

100 miles

Wichita

Red is built-up areas

Tulsa

Las Vegas

California

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City

Albuquerque

Arizona

Texas

New Mexico

MEXICO

Urban areas, where 80 percent of Americans live, are grossly misrepresented in a traditional election map. In fact, only 160 of the 3,000 counties nationwide were responsible for half of the votes cast in 2012. (As depicted on the map at the top of this page.)

Tackling the problem

Mark Newman, a professor of physics at the University of Michigan, has found a novel solution to this problem.

He’s published  cartograms of election results since 2004, using software he wrote based on a method he co-invented. His maps distort state and county geography by population, so small states and urban counties that were outweighed by a sea of red now bulge and hold their own against the more sparsely populated parts of the country. (He’s also made maps for the 2016 election)

GEOGRAPHIC MAP

Winner of county popular vote

CONTIGUOUS CARTOGRAM

Sized by county-level election returns

Chicago

New

York

Los Angeles

Maps courtesy of Mark Newman

GEOGRAPHIC MAP

CONTIGUOUS CARTOGRAM

States sized by number

of electoral votes

Winner of state’s

electoral votes

Sized by county-level

election returns

Winner of county

popular vote

Chicago

New

York

Los Angeles

Maps courtesy of Mark Newman

Winner of state’s

electoral votes

Winner of county

popular vote

Shaded county

popular vote

GEOGRAPHIC

MAP

Chicago

Chicago

CONTIGUOUS

CARTOGRAM

New

York

New

York

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

States sized by number

of electoral votes

Sized by county-level

election returns

Maps courtesy of Mark Newman

“Once people saw the map rescaled, they realized that it was a better representation of the outcome of the election,” Newman said. He’s made cartograms of this sort with other data sets, but the first set of election cartograms he published in 2004 were viewed more than a million times. “They caught people's imaginations the most,” he said.

Robert J. Vanderbei, a professor at Princeton, has also tried different methods to show results. When he saw a county results map in USA Today the morning after the 2000 election, he noticed the county he lived in was shaded red. Puzzled, he looked up the original data and found that his county broke 51-49 toward Bush.

[ Latest results from the Post-ABC presidential tracking poll]

‘Why not make it purple?’ he said. A week after the election, he published a map called “Purple America,” which shows each county in a continuous scale from blue to red. He’s also taken his maps into the third dimension, extruding the counties by margin of victory.

‘PURPLE AMERICA’ FROM 2000 ELECTION

EXTRUDED 3D MAP

Maps courtesy of Robert J. Vanderbei

‘PURPLE AMERICA’ FROM 2000 ELECTION

EXTRUDED 3D MAP

Maps courtesy of Robert J. Vanderbei

Approaches like these provide a greater level of nuance that is lost in more binary approaches.

[ Most of Trump’s charts skew the data. And not always in his favor.]

For example, nearly 900,000 people in Los Angeles County voted for Mitt Romney. That enormous number of votes amounts to just under 28 percent of vote there, and it’s a detail that’s glossed over when that county and the rest of the state are painted blue.

So, why don’t we see more maps that accurately portray this nuance in popular media?

Things take time

Our national tradition of election maps has a rich history, dating at least to the late 1800s.

“We think we’ve invented the election map, but it’s been done before,” said Susan Schulten, chair of the history department at the University of Denver. She discovered what may be the earliest example of a county-level map showing election results, published in 1883.

Plate 11 from Scribner's statistical atlas of the United States, published in 1883.

This example comes from a statistical atlas and shows the result of the 1880 election using the familiar red and blue color scheme with different shades for margin of victory. One thing you will notice: The colors are flipped. Republicans are in blue and Democrats are in red.

The color convention we know today began to be worked out in the unlikeliest of places: television. The increasing prevalence of color television gave us the first iterations of the maps that are so common today. In fact, it wasn’t until 2000 that commonly used colors were red for Republican and blue for Democrat.

[ The 2016 election, in graphics]

Though cartograms are a more accurate way to show election results, it’s difficult to escape the need to preserve geography. “Part of the goal is to keep a map that is recognizable,” Newman said, “but map the area to the value you're interested in.”

While cartograms have been around since at least 1870 and have enjoyed a recent burst in popularity, maps in general date back thousands of years. And like most deep-rooted traditions, they tend to change very slowly. Consider this: The map projection used for maps on most  phones is based on a map created for navigation in 1569.

Changing that won’t be easy, but it has to start somewhere.

Additional mapping work by Laris Karklis.

Correction: A previous version of this article mislabeled the Channel Islands in Los Angeles County.

Cartograms from the Post

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