top of page

The 435 Project

Today, I want to talk about maps.

But not just any maps. United States maps that are colored in based on the results of elections. Here's one from the 2016 election.

The 2016 election results. Source: 270toWin.

As we all know, Republican Donald Trump (shown in red) was victorious in this election, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton (blue). But if you didn't know anything about what happened in the election, how could you figure out who won? Well, you could count all the numbers inside each blue state (that's the number of electoral votes) and compare it to the red states. However, that seems like a lot of work. What you might do is to simply squint at the map from a distance to gain an intuition about who won. Who would you think won?

Well, in the southeastern region, often simply called the South, Trump won just about every state. In the southwest, it's more of a competitive game, with Clinton taking California but Trump taking Texas. Moving our attention to the northwest, we see it's clearly a Republican stronghold. Idaho. Montana. Wyoming. The list goes on. In the midnorthern region, bizarrely known as the Midwest, Clinton won just Minnesota and Illinois, with Trump sweeping the rest of the states. Finally, in the northeast, Clinton won everywhere but Pennsylvania. Overall–the Republican seems like the winner.

But now let's look at the 2008 election, won decisively by Barack Obama:

The 2008 election results. Source: 270toWin.

The South was similarly won by Republican John McCain, even though Florida and North Carolina went blue. The southwest looks the same–a virtual tie. Again, McCain trounced Obama in the northwest. Now we start getting to the changes. Obama performed much better in the Midwest, and again took the Northeast. It's hard to tell who won if you don't know anything about politics. Maybe if you had to guess, you'd say Obama, but...

Barack Obama won 365 electoral votes and John McCain 173. That's a much bigger margin than Trump's obvious 2016 win. Why? I'll demonstrate. Who's winning in the following map? (Ignore the tan states.)

A map I made for demonstration purposes. Source: 270toWin.

Now, if you count the numbers in the states, you can clearly see that the Democrat is winning. New Jersey has 14 electoral votes, but Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas combined form only 12. However, on the map, the visceral impact of the latter is much greater. In general, the northeastern states, which the Democrats can usually count on, look tiny compared to their population, and the big states out west without many people mean that even when the Republicans get trounced, they don't look too bad on the map.

Here's the 2016 election a different way (it's called a cartogram):

The 2016 election, but each state is scaled to number of electoral votes. Source: M.E.J. Newman. (Edit, 2023: This used to contain a cartogram from instead that looked a bit wrong!)

Much better. California's gigantic! Now, even though Trump won, we can see how strong Clinton is in areas like the West and the Northeast. And true to form, New Jersey looks bigger than Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas combined.

Some people do cartograms based on hexes. In this map, each hex is one electoral vote:

The 2016 election, but each state is scaled to number of electoral votes. Source: Al Jazeera.

You can also make world maps based on this principle. Here's one I particularly like:

A world map scaled to population. Source: TeaDranks (Reddit).

Notice how huge India and China are. Russia is much smaller than you'd think, as is Australia. Canada is basically just a hat for the United States. Indonesia and Bangladesh are enormous. South America looks kinda the same.

So we've solved the problem, right? Wrong. I mean, we did, but there's another problem. Here's a map of the current US Senate:

The current US Senate. Source: 270toWin.

Now look at the relationship between New York and Rhode Island. Yes, New York is hope to over 20 million people, whereas Rhode Island is under 2 million, but in the Senate, because of our broken system, they count the same. This next map is my creation:

The current US Senate.

Admittedly, this might no longer count as a map. But it's a neat way to visualize the current makeup of the Senate, with the blue clump in the lower left, the blue clump in the upper right, and red everywhere else.* I even fitted it to a nice rectangle.

What's with the green in Maine and Vermont, you might ask? Those are the two Independent senators we have right now–Angus King and, yes, Bernie Sanders. Both vote with the Democrats on everything.

[Edit from the future: The other senator from Maine is Susan Collins, a Republican, making the Senate map slightly erroneous.]

Oh, and just for fun, here are the United States governors:

The current US governors.

This is much less regional, with surprising Democratic governorships in Montana, Kansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky,** and out-of-character Republican holds in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. This shows how gubernatorial elections tend to be less nationalized than senators.***

But once I finished that, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to make a similar map for the House of Representatives. Yes, there are population maps for that, but I haven't seen any that fits it to a grid. As it turns out, 435, the number of Representatives, is equal to 15 times 29. Therefore, I present to you the 435 project. Thick lines represent state borders.

The current House of Representatives.

(If it displays a bit small, a larger version is available at The other map is available at

By the way, golden represents Libertarian–in this case, Justin Amash's seat in Michigan's 3rd district. Purple represents a vacant seat, though interestingly, each of the vacant seats right now were previously held by a Republican.

Next, here's that same map, but colored based on the 270toWin ratings for how the seat in question will change in the 2020 election.****

270toWin's projections for the 2020 House elections.

Solid blue represents a safe Democratic keep, cornflower blue a likely win, turquoise a slight edge over the Republicans. Purple is a tossup. Pink districts lean Republican, umber represents a likely victory, and solid red states are guaranteed to go red.

Now, if you really looked closely at this map and the previous one, you'd notice that in the state of North Carolina, the numbering is different. You might also notice that Democrats only have three seats in North Carolina currently, yet have the advantage to win five in the upcoming election. Those are connected. The courts found that the previous districts were an illegal Republican gerrymander, and forced the state to redraw the boundaries more fairly. Of course, there are many gerrymanders in other states that the courts haven't bothered to overrule, hurting both Democrats and Republicans alike.

Let's get back to the 2016 election. Recall that in the Electoral College, each state gets a number of electoral votes equal to the number of Senators (2) and the number of Representatives (depending on population). So, if we combine the two maps, we can get a full picture of how the Electoral College voted in the 2016 election.

Each box (yes, they're different sizes on the different maps, unfortunately) represents one electoral vote. In the House map, you may notice that there are two tones of blue and two tones of red. The lighter blue represents a district that voted for Trump, but since states are winner-take-all, its corresponding electoral vote went for Clinton. The darker red is the reverse. In Maine (and Nebraska), the electoral votes representing the House districts actually vote for the winner of those districts. That's why Maine's 2nd is ruby red instead of cornflower blue.

You'll also notice I added DC. Even though the District has no representation in the Senate or House of Representatives (though it has more people than Wyoming) it still counts as a small state for the purposes of the Electoral College, so I added it on the right.


Thanks for reading this post. I hope it helped you gain a better perspective on the country.


*My one regret is that West Virginia is immediately to the north of Virginia. All things considered, it made more sense that way.

**Unfortunately, Kentucky looks pretty normal on the map.

***Speaking of gubernatorial elections, here's my guide to the 2020 ones, as well as my senatorial election guide.

****I've been trashing 270toWin a lot, but in actuality, they're a great resource for making these sorts of things and I'm so happy it exists. Other resources I used include GovTrack's list of representatives by state, along with a map of districts (here's New York) and FiveThirtyEight's tool allowing you to see, among other things, the partisan lean of each district in the long term.


Related Posts

See All


bottom of page