Fact check: Viral image misrepresents the electoral process

·4 min read

The claim: There are no blue states, only blue cities

A viral image circulating on social media is promoting a misleading representation of the U.S. electorate. The image shows a red and blue map of the country with the words “There are zero blue states only blue cities,” across the top.

One July 25 Facebook post with the image reads, “so how did communist tyranny take over?”

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., shared the image to Facebook on July 26.

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But this image is inaccurate in several ways. It pushes a misleading idea of how elections are determined, misrepresents counties as cities and shows outdated election results.

USA TODAY reached out to several users for comment.

County map doesn’t represent election results

Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center and professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA TODAY the image was misleading.

“Because elections are decided by the votes of actual people rather than the land represented by county borders, it is incorrect to conclude that a state is ‘red’ or ‘blue’ because most of the counties in that state are of the same color,” he wrote in an email. “Many counties in the U.S. have extremely small populations that do not contribute much to the statewide result.”

Joe Biden delivers a victory speech outside the Chase Center.
Joe Biden delivers a victory speech outside the Chase Center.

The concept of “red states” and “blue states” comes from television news graphics. NBC introduced the idea in a 1976 broadcast in which election night anchor John Chancellor projected which states would vote for each party. Originally, blue was used for states that would vote Republican, and red was used for those projected to vote Democrat.

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Today, blue states are understood as those where most of the population usually vote for Democrats and red states are those where most voters prefer Republicans.

Electoral slates are determined by population

The Facebook post's focus on a map with more red than blue implies each section of the map should be given equal weight, but electoral power in the U.S. is determined by population, not land mass.

States are awarded electoral votes based on their population as measured in the last Census. Each state’s electoral slate is equal to the state’s total number of congressional representatives (two senators and the number of representatives the state has in the House).

This is part of the U.S. system of proportional representation called for by the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the founders reached the “Great Compromise” by which the American legislature includes a House, with membership determined by state population, and a Senate, in which each state has equal representation.

Fireworks explode after Joe Biden's victory speech.
Fireworks explode after Joe Biden's victory speech.

Map is outdated and misleading

The map in the viral image also misleads because it shows counties while the text addresses cities.

According to Burden, the results in the map also do not appear to show results from any of the last four presidential elections.

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USA TODAY created a map of the 2020 county-level election results that showed counties in nearly every state voted across the political spectrum. The map below shows votes by county as circles, weighted by the number of voters in each, which provides a more accurate view of how Democratics tend to attract voters who are more clustered together in cities while Republicans dominate rural areas.

In some states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Hawaii, the majority vote in all counties went to Biden.

2020 elections by county -  USAT graphics promo image
2020 elections by county - USAT graphics promo image

Burden said such maps that consider population distribution offer much stronger insight into election results.

“Every state is a mixture of Democratic and Republican votes,” he said.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate the claim that there are no blue states, only blue cities FALSE. Elections are determined in the Electoral Collage by the state's total votes – not which candidate wins the most counties or has votes spread over the largest area.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim the U.S. doesn't have any blue states

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