Is America Turning Purple?

With Hillary Clinton scheduled to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president tonight in Philadelphia, the U.S. general election is officially upon us.

Election Results

Click the image to expand.

That means we can expect plenty of fireworks, cable news prognostication, and partisan bile in the next three months. Most of that, it’s safe to say, is best ignored. Fortunately, an election year also brings plenty for the history- and data-minded among us.

With Nov. 8 in mind, we took a look at how state-by-state voting results have changed over the last 13 presidential elections. You can find our visualization – made in OnePager for Excel – here, or expand it by clicking the thumbnail on this page. Bright blue means an overwhelming Democratic victory, and red means the same for the Republicans. Shades of purple represent a closer vote; true purple would be a 50-50 tie.

What do we learn when we examine historical voting trends this way? Quite a few things.

Walter Mondale

The 1984 election did not go well for Walter Mondale.


Races have tightened up: Check out 1964, 1972 or 1984. Blowouts like those simply don’t happen anymore, as the map has become significantly more purple. Ronald Reagan won 525 electoral votes in 1984; Barack Obama took 365 in the 2000s’ most lopsided triumph.

The “Solid South” ended fast: From 1876 until 1964, the South consistently voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. That went out the window in 1968, with demographic shifts, the Voting Rights Act, and the candidacies of Alabama governor George Wallace and Richard Nixon. The Republican Party’s more recent Southern Strategy appears to be waning, too – check out Florida, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland in 2008 and 2012.

D.C. stands firm: Plenty of states have consistent results over the years – Wyoming, Utah, and Massachusetts, in particular. But no state stands up to the consistency of Washington, D.C., which has always voted Democratic … it was only enfranchised in time for 1964.

The Northeast looks blue: Despite several pockets of Republican strength – pieces of New Hampshire, central Pennsylvania, and western New York, of particular – the Northeast has becoming strikingly blue. It’s been 16 years since any state in the region voted Republican, though some polls indicate this year could be a close one.

What do you take from our look at state-by-state presidential voting history? Tell us in the comments!

This entry was posted in Data Visualization, Fun, Hot Topics by Jim. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jim

Jim earned his PhD in applied physics at Harvard University in 1977 and has filled both R&D and executive roles at software-development companies since 1981. His employment history includes Texas Instruments, IBM, Landmark Graphics, and GuideWorks/Comcast. His roles have included Senior Member of Technical Staff at TI, Program Manager at IBM, Vice President of R&D at Landmark, Vice President of Marketing at Landmark, and Senior Vice President of Engineering and Development at GuideWorks/Comcast. He co-founded OnePager (originally Chronicle Graphics) in 2005 because he needed the tool himself and hasn't missed the corporate ladder ever since!

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