Political News

Donald Trump absolutely loves this deeply misleading 2016 electoral map

Posted March 3, 2020 1:40 p.m. EST

— Donald Trump likes pictures. Visuals. Maps.

And one map in particular: This county-by-county one, which he tweeted out to his 70+ million followers last fall:

On Tuesday, speaking to the National Association of Counties, Trump returned, again, to that map.

"Oh I love those beautiful red areas that middle of the map," Trump told the assembled audience. "A little blue here, a little blue there, and everything else ... everything else is bright red."

You can see why Trump loves that map so, so much. There is, as he says, lots and lots of red on it and very little blue -- evidence of the fact that in the 2016 election, Trump won 2,626 counties to Hillary Clinton's 487, according to The Associated Press.

But that is literally (Chris Traeger voice) the only thing that map proves. What this map doesn't prove is what Trump thinks it proves and why he loves it so much: That America is overwhelmingly pro-Trump or pro-Republican.

Why not? Because Trump's favorite map doesn't take into account one very critical piece of the electoral equation: Population. As Haya El Nasser wrote on the US Census website back in 2017:

"More than half of all residents live in just 143 big counties (in terms of the number of residents), according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau county estimates. That means less than half of the population is spread out across the remaining 2,999 small counties."

He also notes that 14 states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming -- don't have a single "big" county, defined as having 926 people (or more) for every square mile.

So what the county-by-county map shows then is that, if land voted, Republicans (and, by extension, Trump) would be totally dominant as a force in American politics. They aren't. In fact, remember this underlying fact about the 2016 election:

Hillary Clinton: 65,853,516 votes

Donald Trump: 62,984,825 votes

If you're looking for a much more accurate representation of what the 2016 election actually looked like, this one by cartoonist Randall Munroe on his XKCD website is pretty good.

That Trump's favorite visual from the 2016 election is one that deeply misleads about not only that election but also about the partisan splits in the country is not terribly surprising. Trump has shown a tendency throughout his life -- in and out of politics -- to bend and break facts to fit his preferred narrative. Trump's loving embrace of the county-by-county map is just more of the same here.

Which doesn't, of course, make the map say what Trump says it does. Because, well, it doesn't.

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