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Decoding U.S. Election Day in 9 Key Charts

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After a tumultuous election cycle, the time has come at last for Americans to cast their ballots.

Media coverage has reached a fever pitch, and keeping up with the news cycle can be daunting for anyone. To keep the voting public and interested onlookers informed, we’ve compiled nine key charts that can help in answering key questions that people will have today:

  • Who’ll win the U.S. presidential election?
  • How could swing states flip?
  • When will we know the election results?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What does the rest of the world think?

Let’s start with the biggest—and most challenging—of these topics first.

Who’ll Win the Election?

As the world learned in 2016, answering this question is not as simple as it looks—even when the poll results point to a clear victory.

Chart #1: Biden remains the odds-on favorite

In 2020’s race, the poll results are once again stacked against President Trump. Here’s a look at who’s ahead in aggregated national polls:

National U.S. election aggregated polls

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Although this election cycle has been a wild ride, that volatility isn’t necessarily reflected in the polls. Over the past three months, Joe Biden’s lead in the national polls has not dipped below three percentage points.

Chart #2: Viewing odds through a 2016 lens

That said, after the colossal miscalculation by the media and pollsters in 2016, many people are skeptical of the accuracy of polls. Luckily, there’s a way to look at predictions through a more skeptical lens. As this table from FiveThirtyEight demonstrates, even if the results are as wrong as in 2016, Joe Biden is still predicted to win.

Margin of error in polls 2016

Chart #3: Betting markets also agree

Prediction markets are another way to try to gauge how the election could turn out. Traders on PredictIt are also leaning towards a Biden win on election day. President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis in early October served as a pivot point in that market.

Prediction markets for the U.S. election

Chart #4: The Sultans of Swing

There are a few swing states which will be hotly contested, with the candidates focusing their final days of campaigning on these.

Pennsylvania has received the most visits from both Trump and Biden since their last debate on October 22nd, with Trump visiting the state seven times and Biden stopping by four times.

Swing states summary

Swing states have had strong early voting turnouts. In fact, the number of early voters in many swing states is already set to surpass the total number of voters they saw in the 2016 election.

While Arizona and Georgia have voted red for the past five elections, early predictions point to these states possibly turning blue in 2020.

When Will We Know the Election Results?

While the result of the presidential election is typically known on the night of the election itself, this year could see delays due to the tight race and the amount of mail-in ballots.

No matter what, state election disputes need to be settled before December 8th, the “safe-harbor deadline”. After this date, states run the risk of having Congress refuse to accept their electoral votes, with Congress also resolving any left over disputes.

Each state’s electors then meet on December 14th in order to elect the president and vice-president. Depending on how that goes, this interactive election timeline by The Guardian looks at a few nightmare scenarios that the U.S. could get caught in.

Chart #5: Visualizing mail-in ballots so far

Mail-in ballots can slow down the election result due to late ballot deadlines and the pre-processing required for them to be counted. Expect to see a correlation between states with high mail-in ballot numbers and how long it takes them to call their result.

Ballot deadlines depend on the state, with some states accepting ballots up until November 23rd as long as they were postmarked by election day.

While some states can start pre-processing ballots before election day, others can’t start until election day itself. Some counties (including some in swing state Pennsylvania) won’t be starting mail-in ballot counting until November 4th due to limited resources.

Why Are the Stakes So High?

Voters from both parties are heavily invested in who wins this election—a trend that’s been on the rise for years, coinciding with increasing amounts of political polarization.

Chart #6: Voter apathy, no more

According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 83% of voters say it “really matters” who becomes the next president. In 2000, only 50% felt so strongly about the outcome of the election.

Voter apathy

To be fair, this year is also unique given a global pandemic—and this has certainly weighed heavily on many voters, creating more urgency than normal.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in April 2020, 45% of Americans think Coronavirus/disease is the most important issue the country is currently facing.

Chart #7: Voters See COVID as a Top Concern

Research has shown a correlation so far between COVID-related deaths and reduced support for the incumbent. According to this graph from the New York Times, Trump’s approval rating tends to be lower in counties with higher death rates.

U.S. voting COVID-19

Chart #8: The price of democracy

The exceptionally high stakes could be a reason why this election is expected to be the most expensive to date. Spending is projected to reach over $13 billion, almost double the amount spent in 2016.

U.S. election spending

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Chart #9: What the rest of the world thinks

Americans aren’t the only ones invested in the U.S. presidential election this year. The whole world is watching, and according to Ipsos, the majority is rooting for Biden.

How would the world vote?

But of course, the world doesn’t get to cast a vote today, making this final chart a moot point.

The real decision makers will be in the American electorate—and the forthcoming result will be on people’s minds for days, months, or maybe even years to come.

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Politics

Visualized: The World Leaders In Positions of Power (1970-Today)

Who has led the world’s 15 most powerful countries over the last 50 years? This visual looks at world leaders from 1970 to today.

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positions of power world leaders

Visualized: The World Leaders In Positions of Power

Who were the world leaders when the Berlin Wall fell? How many women have been heads of state in prominent governments? And who are the newest additions to the list of world leaders?

This graphic reveals the leaders of the most influential global powers since 1970. Countries were selected based on the 2020 Most Powerful Countries ranking from the U.S. News & World Report.

Note: Switzerland has been omitted due to the swiftly changing nature of their national leadership.

The 1970s: Economic Revolutions

Our graphic starts in 1970, a year in which Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union, while on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Willy Brandt was presiding over West Germany.

In the U.S., Richard Nixon implemented a series of economic shocks to stimulate the economy, but resigned in scandal due to the Watergate tapes in 1974. In the same time period, China was undergoing rapid industrialization and economic hardship under the final years of rule of communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, until his death in 1976.

In 1975, the King of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was assassinated by his nephew. The decade also marked the end of Park Chung-Hee’s dictatorship in South Korea when he was assassinated in 1979.

To cap off the decade, Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, transforming the British economy using a laissez-faire economic policy that would come to be known as Thatcherism.

The 1980s: Reaganomics and the Fall of the Wall

The 1980s saw Ronald Reagan elected in the U.S., beginning an era of deregulation and economic growth. Reagan would actually meet the Soviet Union’s president, Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 to discuss human rights and nuclear arms control amid the tensions of the Cold War.

The 1984 assassination of the Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi was also a defining event of the decade. She was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi for only seven years before his own assassination in 1991.

The ‘80s were clearly turbulent times for world leaders, especially towards the end of the decade. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified under chancellor Helmut Kohl. 1989 was also the year when the devastating events occurred at the Tiananmen Square protests in China, under president Deng Xiaoping. The event left a lasting mark on China’s history and politics.

The 1990s: War 2.0 and the Promise of the EU

The beginning of a new decade marked the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, leading to Boris Yeltsin’s position as the first president of the Russian Federation. A sense of peace, or at least the knowledge that a finger wasn’t floating above a nuclear launch button at any given moment, brought a sense of global calm.

However, this does not mean the decade was without conflict. The Gulf War began in 1990, led by the U.S. military’s Commander-in-Chief George H.W. Bush. In the mid-90s, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel was assassinated by Jewish extremists.

In spite of this, the ‘90s were a time of optimism for many. In 1993, the European project began. The European Union was founded with the support European leaders like the UK’s prime minister John Major, France’s president Francois Mitterrand, and chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany.

The 2000s: Historic Firsts and Power Shifts

The dawn of a new century had people feeling both hopeful and scared. While Y2K didn’t end the world, many transformative events did occur, such as the 9/11 attacks in New York and the subsequent war on terror led by U.S. president George W. Bush.

On the other hand, Angela Merkel made history becoming the first female chancellor of Germany in 2005. A few years later, Barack Obama also achieved a momentous ‘first’ as the first African-American president in the United States.

The 2000s to early 2010s also revealed rapidly changing power shifts in Japan. Shinzō Abe rose to power in 2006, and after five leadership changes in seven years, he eventually circled back, ending up as prime minister again by 2013—a position he held until late 2020.

CountryNumber of Leaders Since 1970
🇯🇵 Japan25
🇹🇷 Turkey 18
🇮🇳 India12
🇦🇺 Australia12
🇬🇧 UK10
🇺🇸 USA10
🇰🇷 South Korea 10
🇮🇱 Israel9
🇨🇦 Canada9
🇷🇺 Russia7
🇫🇷 France7
🇨🇳 China6
🇩🇪 Germany5
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia5
🇦🇪 UAE2

The 2010s: World Leaders Face Uncertainty

The 2010s were more than eventful. The Hong Kong protests under Chinese president Xi Jinping, and the annexation of Crimea led by Vladimir Putin, uncovered the wavering dominance of democracy and international law.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s move to introduce a Brexit referendum, resulted in just over half of the British population voting to leave the EU in 2016. This vote led to a rising feeling of protectionism and a shift away from globalization and multilateral cooperation.

Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential election was a shocking political longshot in the same year. Trump’s stint as president will likely have a longstanding impact on the course of American politics.

Two countries elected their first female leaders in this decade: president Park Geun-Hye in South Korea, and prime minister Julia Gillard in Australia. Here’s a look at which global powers have been led by women in the last 50 years.

CountryFemale Leader
🇦🇺 AustraliaJulia Gillard
🇨🇦 CanadaKim Campbell
🇩🇪 GermanyAngela Merkel
🇮🇳 IndiaIndira Gandhi
🇮🇱 IsraelGolda Meir
🇰🇷 South KoreaPark Geun-Hye
🇹🇷 TurkeyTansu Ciller
🇬🇧 UKMargaret Thatcher
🇬🇧 UKTheresa May

2020 to Today

No one can avoid talking about 2020 without talking about COVID-19. Many world leaders have been praised for their positive handling of the pandemic, such as Angela Merkel in Germany. Others on the other hand, like Boris Johnson, have received critiques for slow responses and mismanagement.

The year 2020 packed about as much punch on its own as an entire decade does, from geopolitical tensions to a nail-biting 2020 U.S. election. The world is on high alert as the now twice-impeached Trump prepares his transfer of power following the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The newest addition to the ranks of world leaders, Joe Biden, has recently taken his place as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021.

Editor’s note: We’ll continue to update this graphic on world leaders as time goes on. Unfortunately, we were unable to include world leaders from more countries, as we were limited by the graphic format and user experience.

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U.S. Presidential Voting History from 1976-2020 (Animated Map)

With this map of U.S. presidential voting history by state, discover patterns that have emerged over the last twelve elections.

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Voting History

U.S. Presidential Voting History by State

After a tumultuous election, all states have now certified their 2020 presidential voting results. Which states changed party allegiance, and how do the results compare to previous years?

In this graphic, we use data from the U.S. National Archives and the MIT Election Data and Science Lab to show U.S. presidential voting history by state since 1976.

Note: this post has been updated on January 19, 2021 to reflect the latest data.

Each State’s Winning Party

To calculate the winning ratio, we divided the votes for the state’s winning party by the total number of state votes. Here’s another look at the same data, visualized in a different way.

Voting History

This graphic was inspired by this Reddit post.

As the voting history shows, some states—such as Alaska, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—have consistently supported the Republican Party. On the other hand, Hawaii, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have been Democrat strongholds for many decades.

The District of Columbia (D.C.) is a federal district, and is not part of any U.S. State. Its population is urban and has a large percentage of Black and college-educated citizens, all of which are groups that tend to identify as Democrat.

Swing states typically see a close contest between Democrats and Republicans. For example, Florida’s average margin of victory for presidential candidates has been just 2.7% since 1996. It’s often seen as a key battleground, and for good reason: the state has 29 electoral college votes, meaning it has a high weighting in the final outcome.

Memorable Election Years

Within U.S. presidential voting history, some election results stand out more than others. In 1984, President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide victory, winning 49 out of 50 states. The remarkable win has been credited to the economic recovery during Reagan’s first term, Reagan’s charisma, and voters’ opposition to the Democrat’s planned tax increases.

In 1992, self-made Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate. He captured almost 19% of the popular vote, the highest percentage of any third-party presidential candidate in over 80 years. While he gained support from those looking for a change from traditional party politics, Bill Clinton ultimately went on to win the election.

Most recently, the 2020 election had a record voter turnout, with 66.3% of the eligible population casting a ballot. There was also a record number of mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to widespread allegations of voter fraud, with President Trump and his allies filing 62 lawsuits seeking to overturn election results. In the end, 61 of the lawsuits were defeated and congress confirmed Joe Biden’s victory.

Voting History of Swing States

Both Trump and Biden focused on battleground states in 2020, but where were they successful? Here are nine of the swing states, and their voting history over the last two elections.

 2020 Winning Ratio2020 Margin of Victory2016 Winning Ratio2016 Margin of Victory
Arizona49.4% Democrat0.31%48.7% Republican3.60%
Florida51.2% Republican3.36%49.0% Republican1.20%
Georgia49.5% Democrat0.24%50.8% Republican5.20%
Iowa53.2% Republican8.20%51.2% Republican9.40%
Michigan50.6% Democrat2.78%47.5% Republican0.20%
North Carolina50.1% Republican1.35%49.8% Republican3.60%
Ohio53.3% Republican8.03%51.7% Republican8.10%
Pennsylvania50.0% Democrat1.16%48.9% Republican0.70%
Wisconsin49.5% Democrat0.63%47.2% Republican0.70%

The Republican party won four of the swing states in 2020, including Florida. However, 2020 was the first year since 1964 that the candidate who won Florida did not go on to win the election.

Five of the states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—flipped allegiance to the Democrats. In Georgia, the margin of victory was as small as 0.24% or about 12,000 votes. Ultimately, winning over these states helped lead to a Biden victory.

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