The Electoral College

Well today we elect the president of the United States. Wait! you say, did we not just do that a few weeks ago?

Not really, no.

In the run up to the election, I and others saw the possibility that this election could result in a gap between the national popular vote and the electoral college vote. And people think that unfair. Consequently I decided to start working on a series of graphics to help explain the system. But before I could finish, the Washington Post published this piece that I think does a strong job. So, I am going to point you there instead.

The United States is not a democracy, but a federal, democratic republic. Though that may smack of wordsmithery, it is an important distinction. We are a democratic republic in that we elect people to represent us, we do not directly vote on matters of government. And then that federal bit. The United States was formed by sovereign states, i.e. the colonies and other independent republics like Texas and (sort of) California. Others were territories belong to sovereign states that we acquired through negotiation, e.g. the Louisiana territory and Florida. In short, the United States is not a unitary state ruled by an all-powerful central government. The central government only has the authority granted to it by the states and territories entering the union.

States are intended to be equal, but the democratic republic bit means the people need to have their say. So the federal House of Representatives gets a set number of seats divided proportionally by population (as determined by the US Census) while the Senate represents all states equally with senators. The House is elected by the people every two years and thus is more in tune with national public sentiment. The Senate serves as the more deliberative body tempering perhaps overly reactionary House legislation. It also serves to represent the interests of the state governments. Initially, you did not even vote for senators. Those were chosen by your state governments, often the state legislature. (I will save that topic for another day.)

The electoral college of 538 members comes from each state’s House delegation and its two senators. And because this is a federal, i.e. state-led, republic, each state determines how to divvy up their votes. Most states do winner-take-all. Two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate them based on who wins the House districts and then an additional two (from the number of senators) to the overall state winner.

That very complicated system was designed to ensure that states with smaller populations are not summarily outvoted and overruled by the largest of states. This initially helped the smaller states in the Northeast like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware, but also the slave states like Georgia. In 2016, this means that the states of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains receive overrepresentation at the expense of the larger states like California, Texas, New York, and even my Pennsylvania.

The graphics from the Washington Post do a great job of showing not just how states today are over- or under-represented, but how that has changed since 1960. That is an important date given the Voting Rights Act that attempted to break down systemic injustices against minorities, particular blacks, in elections.

This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.
This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.

Is the electoral college “fair”? If this was a unitary republic, no. I doubt anyone would or could argue that point. But the United States is not and was not meant to be a unitary republic. We are a collection of sovereign states that grant power to a federal government. So in that sense, the electoral college is a fair, albeit not perfect, system that seeks to reallocate electoral power from high population states to low population states.

Credit for the piece goes to Denise Lu.

Trumpland vs. Clintonopolis

I was not sure if I wanted to file this under either my humourous Friday posts or my regular weekday posts, but I ultimately decided to go with the weekly postings. Why?

It’s simply a different way of visualising the election results, by separating the two camps into two separate Americas. One is the geography connected by Trump’s victory, the other are those disconnected cities and geographies united around Clinton. A collection of almost Greek-like city states.

Trumpland.

Trumpland
Trumpland

Clintonopolis.

Clintonopolis
Clintonopolis

And what I can say as someone who often drove from the Chicago Sea to the Acela Channel, the United States is very much divided by economics and by culture. But in theory that is the great advantage of the pluralist, multicultural society—it allows for all people of all different types to cohabit an entire continent. Well, in theory at least.

Credit for the piece goes to Tim Wallace.

Deportation of Immigrants

Donald Trump announced how he wants to deport 2–3 million undocumented immigrants that have criminal convictions or that belong to gangs. I read up on the issue at FiveThirtyEight and came across the following graphic from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The government's chart on deportations
The government’s chart on deportations

However, when I review the graphic, I found it difficult to understand the FiveThirtyEight article’s point that President Obama has lessened the focus on deportation, but those deported are those convicted of serious criminal offences. So I expanded the size of the y-axis and broke apart the stacked bar chart to show the convicted criminals vs. the non-criminal immigration violators. This graphic more clearly shows the dramatic falloff in deportations, and the emphasis on those with criminal convictions.

A general decline in deportations has also seen a focus on convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators
A general decline in deportations has also seen a focus on convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators

Credit for the original goes to the graphics department of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The other one is mine.

The Sorting Hat

Well the election is finally over. And since last week I used my Friday post to talk about something serious, I apologise for backtracking just a wee bit to go back to the election.

This summer I had a discussion with one of the designers I worked with at the time, Ciana Frenze. We were sitting out in the Art Institute garden with a few other designers where she was explaining Harry Potter’s sorting hat to me—I know nothing about Harry Potter. I never thought that knowing the defining characteristics of the various houses would come in handy, especially given my interest in politics and data. But today’s piece fits rather well.

Fits right in there
Fits right in there

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Election Day

Well this is it. Well at least for you American readers of this blog. It’s Election Day. If you had told me that this is what it would come to almost a year and a half ago, I would have laughed. But it did. And now it comes down to all of us to vote, unless unlike me you live in a state with early voting. And then when the polls begin to close, nerds of the political and data persuasion will be following the results in state, counties, and congressional districts.

And we will be following it all because not all the people on the ballots are named Trump or Clinton. I lived eight years in Illinois. There, you guys are, among others, choosing between Kirk and Duckworth. Here in Pennsylvania, it’s between Toomey and McGinty. Here there is also a referendum on judicial retirement ages. Other districts, counties, and states will have other things upon which to vote.

And while local politics and governance impact us the most, let’s face it. We’re all here for the title fight. The heavyweight class: Trump v. Clinton. So today being Election Day, how is it going to turn out? Well I have my thoughts, check them out here, but who really knows? But who also doesn’t want to try and guess? Enter the New York Times. They have a great interactive decision tree that allows you to experiment. But even without selecting a thing you can see how much more likely a Clinton victory is. She simply has more paths to 270 electoral college votes.

Decide who wins by deciding who wins which state
Decide who wins by deciding who wins which state

But that all said, a Clinton victory is far from guaranteed. If the narrow polls are wrong in any one of her “firewall” states, Trump can win. And while it may seem forever ago, remember Bernie Sanders in Michigan? The polls had him down by at least five points to Clinton throughout the race. He won the state by two points. Now a seven point swing is a bit extreme, and I am not suggesting any state will be in that much error. But three to four points is very plausible. And Clinton’s leads? In many of these states, they are within that uncomfortable margin. So here is a plausible scenario that makes tiny New Hampshire and its four votes the deciding state.

Leaving it all to New Hampshire
Leaving it all to New Hampshire

So remember, if you haven’t already, go vote. And if I learned anything from Chicago, it’s vote once, vote often.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

The Affordable Care Act You Likely Know as Obamacare

It just won’t die. Grandma, that is, in front of the death panels of Obamacare. Remember those? Well, even if you don’t, the Affordable Care Act (the actual name for Obamacare) is still around despite repeated attempts to repeal it. So in this piece from Bloomberg, Obamacare is examined from the perspective of leaving 27 million people uninsured. In 2010, there were 47 million Americans without insurance and so the programme worked for 20 million people. But what about those remaining 27?

I am not usually a fan of tree maps, because it is difficult to compare areas. However, in this piece the designers chose to animate each section of the tree as they move along their story. And because the data set remains consistent, e.g. the element of the 20 million who gained insurance, the graphic becomes a familiar part of the article and serves as a branching off point—see what I did there?—to explore different slices of the data.

This is a tree map I actually think works well
This is a tree map I actually think works well

So in the end, this becomes one of those cases where I actually think the tree map worked to great effect. Now there is a cartogram in the article, that I am less sure about. It uses squares within squares to represent the number of uninsured and ineligible for assistance as a share of the total uninsured.

I'm not sure the map is necessary here
I’m not sure the map is necessary here

Some of the visible patterns come from states that refused to expand Medicaid. It was supposed to cover the poorest, but the Supreme Court ruled it was optional not mandatory and 19 states refused to expand the coverage. But surely that could have been done in a clearer fashion than the map?

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy Scott Diamond, Zachary Tracer, and Chloe Whiteaker.

The National Debt

One of the things discussed during the election season—though very minorly compared to other things—is the national debt. Debt itself is not scary. Look at student loans, home loans, auto loans, &c. Look at the credit cards in your wallet. But running a country is far more difficult and complex than a household budget. That said, our national debt is high, though of late it has been trending in a positive direction, i.e. flattening out its growth curve.

So what would electing either Clinton or Trump do to the debt? Well, nothing great. According to this piece from the Washington Post, we would be talking about increasing the debt because of plans that are not fully funded or revenue cuts that fail to match spending cuts. But as the graphic shows with a really nice piece of layout between text and image, one option is far worse than the other for the issue of the national debt.

The graphic is clear, and emphasised by the layout of the text
The graphic is clear, and emphasised by the layout of the text

The opening graphic above draws the reader into the overall piece, but the remainder of the piece breaks down policies and implications with additional graphics. If you want to understand the differences between the candidates and the impact of those differences, this is a good read.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Uhrmacher and Jim Tankersley.

Pennsylvania’s Polls

Again, the election is next week. And since I have moved from Chicago to Philadelphia, I now find myself in a contested state. This piece comes from the New York Times and explores the polling results across the blue-leaning-but-still-a-swing-state. I find it particularly interesting just how much red and purple there is in the suburban counties of Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks all surrounding Philadelphia. But that will only make my vote matter more than it would have had were I still living in Chicago.

But you should also check out the piece for some updates on the Senate race we have going on here. The Republican Pat Toomey is running for re-election against the Democrat Katie McGinty. The race can be described as a tossup as the polls seem to be flipping back and forth. But there is some interesting polling data to be found in the article.

Pennsylvania's pre-election support
Pennsylvania’s pre-election support

In about a week we will see just how Pennsylvania goes for both the presidential election and the Senate election.

Credit for the piece goes to Nate Cohn.

The Asian Arms Race

In case you missed it, two weeks ago President Duterte of the Philippines had some interesting things to say regarding the relationship between the Philippines and the United States. “America has lost” and “separation from the U.S.” were among the two big lines he spoke to a Chinese audience. But the Philippines are an important part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia strategy as we have been spending money and time improving defence ties. Naturally issues like the the pivot underpin Trump’s claims about poor judgment when it comes to the Obama/Clinton foreign policy.

The pivot’s improving defence ties come at a time of region-wide increases in defence spending. Thankfully Bloomberg put together an article with some nice graphics earlier this year. As someone who has always had an interest in naval things if not military things, see my numerous posts on that here, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article and digesting the graphics. The one below compares the strengths of the Chinese fleets to those American fleets permanently assigned to the Pacific Ocean region.

The Chinese Navy vs (part of) the US Navy
The Chinese Navy vs (part of) the US Navy

Of course the question becomes, beyond making our military stronger, just what would Trump do to counter or affect the arms race in the Asia Pacific region?

Credit for the piece goes to the Bloomberg graphics department.

Tracking Polls One Week Out

Well the election is next Tuesday, and last Friday and this past weekend was…interesting. So one(ish) week to go, and we are going to turn to a few posts that use data visualisation and graphics to explore topics related to the election.

Today we start with the latest tracking polls, released on Friday. The piece comes from the Washington Post and highlights the closing gap between Clinton and Trump with a sudden spike in Republican candidate support. But what I really like about the piece is the plot below. It displays the 0 axis vertically and plots time with the most recent date at the top. And then support for the various demographics can be filtered by selectable controls above the overall plot.

Saturday's polling numbers
Saturday’s polling numbers

Of course the really interesting bit is going to be how much this changes in the next seven days. And then what that means for the results when we all wake up on Wednesday morning.

Credit for the piece goes to Chris Alcantara, Kevin Uhrmacher, and Emily Guskin.