They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, then a data visualization is worth a million words. Or data points.

This map showing the 1860 election results of the U.S. has been drawn and redrawn numerous times over the years, but it does more than just help us visualize the data; it serves to tell a compelling story about the past and present political situation.

In the year 1860, the U.S. was comprised of 33 states in the Union. Mapmaker Max Galka, clearly an adept data visualization practitioner, carefully chose the colors and manners in which to convey the election results. This then transforms the incredibly complex political landscape into an easily comprehensible map, taking us back to a data story from 1860.

The Black States

These were not exactly states back in 1860, but were “U.S. territories”, with some being named “Indian lands” instead. Even though these territories (such as Washington and Colorado) definitely had U.S. citizens, they were not allowed to vote and, hence, these territories were not accounted for in the election results.

The Red States

In 1860,U the Republican Party made their first winning appearance in the election results. It was also the year in which their candidate was Abraham Lincoln. He went on to become the 16th president of the United States, leading the United States through its bloodiest war and greatest crisis, the Civil War. His greatest accomplishments include preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the economy.

The Purple States

When the 1860 elections came around, the Democrats had collapsed as a party due to mainly two reasons: the first being the controversially ineffective presidency of James Buchanan, and the second being the disfavored declaration of Stephen Douglas as their candidate. This led the Southern delegates of the party to walk out and form an independent party, namely the Southern Democratic Party.

The Green States

Before the presidential elections, the Northern Democrats had a tendency to prevail in the North. But that was before the Republicans drained them of support during the rocky road that was the 1850s. The consequences can clearly be seen on the map of the 1860 election results.

The Turquoise States

The Border States such as Kentucky and Virginia were not happy with either the Northern or the Southern Democratic candidates. Since the Republicans were also out of the question due to large slave-holding populations, the Constitutional-Union Party was formed as a hybrid with the Constitution permitting slavery and the Union being indivisible.

Back to the Future: Election Results Lose Their Colors

Compare that to the scenario of today, where the same map has become a mere collection of red and blue states. Looking at a timeline of the election results maps, we see that the last time a third party succeeded in any state in the election results was in 1968.

Before that, three parties dominated the elections regularly about once every five election cycles. After that and up until now, presidential election results have been a race between just two parties: the Republicans and Democrats. This establishes and concludes the abnormality of the political situation that has now become a norm in the US.

Now what’s left to be seen is if the 2016 presidential election results will bring a change, or if we will again see a map composed of only red and blue states.


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This post is inspired from the following articles by Max Galka and Feather Schwartz Foster respectively:

http://metrocosm.com/us-presidential-elections/
https://featherfoster.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/abe-steve-breck-and-bell-a-multi-colored-mapl/