Donald Trump, who can’t seem to get over the fact that he won the election, retweeted a 2016 election map that shows pretty much the entire country in red, emphasizing the precincts that gave him a majority of their votes. The map purposely attempts to display that “everyone” in vast swaths of the United States voted for him.
Unfortunately, this map lacks any nuance. Even in my county, which provided over 70% of its votes to Trump, around 25% of county residents voted for Hillary Clinton or some other candidate. While we have a county that’s mostly “red,” it’s not 100% red; there’s a bit of blue thrown in. The website containing the 2016 election results for Minnesota provides yet another map, this one a state map, that shows solid red for counties in which Trump received a majority and solid blue for those that gave a majority to Clinton. Problem is, not a single one of our 87 counties voted exclusively for one candidate or the other. Each county had a mix, with the final result for Minnesota being 46.9% of the vote going to Clinton and 45.4% going to Trump. Minnesota is actually a purple state, evenly mixed between blue and red.
I suspect the same is true of every other state … we are a country of varying shades of purple, not a bunch of solid red areas bumping up against solid blue areas.
What this goes to show is that simplified visuals meant to easily convey complex information instead shove us toward the cliff of polarization. Because we see all red in certain areas and all blue in other areas, we tend to believe that we are more divided than we really are. These winner-take-all maps do our country a grave disservice (just like the winner-take-all electoral college does), although the person who created the map Trump tweeted was probably intent on keeping us divided. There are people, both inside and outside our country, who have a vested interest in stirring us up and causing discord among us. If neighbors are fighting, we aren’t paying attention to corruption in our government.
As law professor Lawrence Lessig recently wrote in his article, Rules for a constitutional crisis, “Our work now has got to be to unite Americans as Americans.” One simple way to nudge us toward that is to dump the red and blue maps and show the country in all its mixed-up purple glory.
I’m not the first person to think so. In searching for purple election maps, I found a couple of great online articles. One is from The Washington Post and is called Election maps are telling you big lies about small things. The article discusses the history of and problems with the red/blue maps and provides purple solutions from a couple of different professors.
Another article from The Observer, this one aptly called The Purple Election Map, shows a software engineer/illustrator’s nuanced purple map that takes into account population density in regards to election results.
All of these purple maps indicate that we are more similar than the red/blue maps would have us believe. For the health and survival of our democracy, we need to use the power of purple to bring us back together. Let’s start with maps that give us the visual representation of unity that we need to strive for. Then, perhaps, we can fix our electoral college system so that it gives proportional votes from state-to-state, rather than giving all electoral college votes to the candidate with the majority of votes in a particular state. That would bring the power of purple off the map and into the real world.