Donald Trump is justifiably proud of having won the presidency.
It’s hard to begrudge him that; only 43 other people have served in the office, and most of them did so in eras where campaigning was far less complex and grueling than the current one. Sure, he brings it up publicly every third day, but so be it.
What’s a little odder is his obsession with the 2016 electoral map. In the middle of an interview with Reuters for his 100th day in office, Trump pulled copies of the electoral map from a pile and passed them out for people to enjoy. “It’s pretty good, right?” he asked the reporters. “The red is obviously us.”
Then, this week, a new bit of decoration was seen making its way into the West Wing.
Spotted: A map to be hung somewhere in the West Wing pic.twitter.com/TpPPDyNFtE
— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) May 11, 2017
The red is obviously him.
The problem with that map, as has been noted ad nauseam, is that it is simply a map of land area won by Trump vs. by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. All of that red mostly reflects big, sparsely populated counties that Trump won, while Clinton’s wins were clustered in smaller, densely packed cities. It’s clearly not a measure of votes won because Trump won fewer votes.
That map warps the land area to better depict the number of people who live in each place, as opposed to how much land they take up.
But even if you want to solely focus on how much land you won — which Trump and his team frequently do — the map in the image above is imprecise for showing that, as well. First of all, Alaska is shown as being smaller than Texas, which is not the case. Second, it breaks out the land area by county, which, while better than state data, is still imprecise.
After the 2016 election, Ryne Rohla embarked on a remarkable project, compiling election results by precinct for the entire country. Precincts are the smallest geographical area for which results are tallied, meaning that Rohla’s resulting map offers the most precise look at the geography of the 2016 election.
This is much better than Trump’s map — but, since we’re still just looking at land area, the too-small Alaska is still a problem.
We asked Rohla to run a calculation for us: How much actual land area was won by each of the candidates in each state in 2016 — and 2008 and 2012? He generously obliged.
So here, then, is a better map, capturing the actual split in land area by state, with each state at the proper scale.
Some of the states have been rearranged a bit; if you’re curious which is which, we’ve labeled them here.
In total, that’s 765,219.4 square miles won by Hillary Clinton and 2,822,736.9 won by Donald Trump. Notice what happened to Alaska here: Clinton won a lot of the state’s land mass. In fact, Alaska alone accounts for nearly half of the land area she won, which is played down in the maps Trump is handing out.
Here are the results for 2008 and 2012: both campaigns won by a Democrat, thanks to electoral votes, but in which the Republican won far more land area.
You can see interesting patterns as we move through the elections. From 2008 to 2012, the amount of blue in most states shrinks — thanks to Barack Obama’s narrower victory. From 2012 to 2016, it shrinks more, especially in the upper Midwest.
But, interestingly, from 2008 to 2012, the percentage of the land area in the United States won by Obama actually increased. In 2008, he won 886,338 square miles of land; in 2012 it was 911,770. Why the change? Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin wasn’t running as vice president, and so he won a lot more tundra.
In total, Obama won about a quarter of the country’s land mass in his two races. Clinton won about a fifth.
One thing that’s not reflected on those maps is who actually won the states at stake. If we highlight the states won by the eventual winners in 2008 and 2016, the futility of focusing on land area is made obvious.
So perhaps it’s this last map that the president should hang near his office, the best reflection of how much actual U.S. ground he won. If someone from the White House is interested in getting a version for print, do let us know. We’re happy to help make Mr. Trump’s celebration of land mass more accurate.