Posted by: structureofnews | November 5, 2012

Mapping the Elections

Much as I’m a fan of Nate Silver’s blog about the US election – and every other geeky stats-driven predictive site – I confess that it can be hard sometimes to follow the various permutations and explanations of the possible outcomes of Tuesday’s voting.   Which is why this great NYT graphic is the perfect example of how sometimes – oftentimes – the best stories are told in pictures.

It’s as simple an idea as can be – a tree of outcomes that basically sums up the various ways the key swing states could go, and what the combinations are that would allow either a Obama or Romney victory.  It lets you choose how states will vote, and then shows you what the consequences are. It’s simple, intuitive, and yet hugely powerful.  About the only thing that could make it better – but also probably complicate it in the process – is to feed in local polls showing what the electorate is thinking in each state.  But I quibble.

It also points to why the default organizing principle for a lot of election graphics – maps – often isn’t the best one.  True, we all understand maps, and familiarity is an important element when you’re trying to engage people.  But it forces the information we have to fit into that structure, even when it doesn’t.  This graphic, with a very familiar tree structure, also engages people immediately, but doesn’t require us to think about – or care about – where Florida or Ohio is geographically.

Anyway, kudos to the Times for a nicely designed graphic – one that both offers a quick visual narrative that makes a point (the complexity needed for a Romney win) as well as a richer interactive experience that lets you understand the broader issues at play.


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