A prize if you can guess what this is:
Well, OK, it's a map, and looks like a presidential election map.
But of what election? This map looks insane...a Republican winning Illinois and California...and losing the election?
A Democrat winning Mississippi and Alabama...in fact, winning every state officially in the former Confederacy except for Virginia?
All this happened. In fact, most of the people reading this were alive when it happened.
In this election, the Democratic candidate ran stronger in the state of Kansas - which was the home state of the Republican vice-presidential nominee! - than he did in Colorado.
The Republican won four states in New England and practically none in the South.
This is the map from 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia defeated Republican incumbent Gerald Ford of Michigan to become the 39th President of the United States.
As you can see, the playing field for both candidates in this election would be completely unrecognizable today. Both Republicans and Democrats only dream of winning some of these states today.
In fact, the most notable thing about the 1976 presidential election is the stunning number of genuinely competitive states - there were more "swing states" in this election than in any other election in modern times.
Fully 31 states, comprising 404 electoral votes, were decided by a margin of eight points or fewer in 1976. Oddly enough, Carter and Ford split these states exactly down the middle - Ford won 18 of them, worth 202 electoral votes, while Carter won 13 of them, also worth 202 electoral votes.
Carter's base - his home state of Georgia and the surrounding Solid South states of Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas, coupled with the Democratic strongholds of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Minnesota - was slightly bigger than Ford's (the Plains and much of the Mountain West, coupled with the old-style New England Republican states of Vermont and New Hampshire), and that won the election for Carter, who wound up with 297 electoral votes to 240 for Ford (and one for Ronald Reagan).
Here's a visual representation, with the grey states being the 1976 swing states:
Imagine playing on that map! That's about as wide-open a map as you could hope for. And as the numbers from the 1976 election indicate, a little tilt one way or the other could have turned the election into an electoral landslide for either party.
Here are Ford's margins in the competitive states he won:
Oregon 6 47.78% 47.62% 0.16%
Maine 4 48.91% 48.01% 0.90%
Iowa 8 49.47% 48.46% 1.01%
Oklahoma 8 49.96% 48.75% 1.21%
Virginia 12 49.29% 47.96% 1.35%
South Dakota 4 50.39% 48.91% 1.48%
California 45 49.35% 47.57% 1.78%
Illinois 26 50.10% 48.13% 1.97%
New Jersey 17 50.08% 47.92% 2.16%
New Mexico 4 50.75% 48.28% 2.47%
Washington 9 50.00% 46.11% 3.89%
Nevada 3 50.17% 45.81% 4.36%
Connecticut 8 52.06% 46.90% 5.16%
Michigan 21 51.83% 46.44% 5.39%
North Dakota 3 51.66% 45.80% 5.86%
Montana 4 52.81% 45.40% 7.41%
Kansas 8 52.49% 44.94% 7.55%
Indiana 13 53.32% 45.70% 7.62%
Ford's loss could easily have been a lot worse. He picked up fully 113 electoral votes in states that were decided by less than two points apiece.
On the other hand, Ford could easily have won. Check out the following states, all of which Carter won by eight points or fewer:
Ohio 25 48.92% 48.65% 0.27%
Wisconsin 11 49.50% 47.83% 1.67%
Mississippi 7 49.56% 47.68% 1.88%
Hawai'i 4 50.59% 48.06% 2.53%
Pennsylvania 27 50.40% 47.73% 2.67%
Texas 26 51.14% 47.97% 3.17%
Missouri 12 51.10% 47.47% 3.63%
New York 45 51.95% 47.52% 4.43%
Florida 17 51.93% 46.64% 5.29%
Delaware 3 51.98% 46.57% 5.41%
Louisiana 10 51.73% 45.95% 5.78%
Maryland 10 53.04% 46.96% 6.08%
Kentucky 9 52.75% 45.57% 7.18%
Victories in the two closest Carter states - Ohio and Wisconsin - would have given Ford the election, and he was about as close to a landslide as Carter was. Ford ended within five points in the electoral-vote powerhouses of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and New York, meaning that it's not outlandish to envision a 400-electoral-vote cruise for the former president, if things had gone just a bit differently.
As we know, several of the states that went for Ford are now reliably Democratic states, much as several of the Carter states are now reliably Republican (including his home state of Georgia, where he won 67% of the vote!!!)
So what would have happened if events had shifted the political climate substantially one way or the other, or if one candidate had really managed to dominate the campaign and lock up the majority of the swing states?
Here's the doomsday scenario:
That's a 462-76 electoral-college romp for Gerald Ford.
Meanwhile, here's what might have been for the Democrats - a kind of Reaganesque thorough domination we have not enjoyed since 1964 with Lyndon Johnson.
That's very close to the magic 500 number in EVs: 499 for Carter, 39 for Ford.
While this election was very close, it was not the closest ever - it pales in comparison to 2000, for example, an election decided by 537 votes in one state, where the winning candidate lost the popular vote.
But there has probably never been another election quite like 1976, when so many states were up for grabs, when both candidates could see their way clear either to a landslide victory or a loss.
It would be a lot of fun, for both parties, if we could get to this point of national competitiveness again, although given that the GOP seems to be insistent on becoming a regional party, it's not especially likely.