From Order to Chaos?

A few weeks ago we said farewell to John Bercow as Speaker of the House (UK). Whilst I covered the election for the new speaker, I missed the opportunity to post this piece from the BBC. It looked at Bercow’s time in office from a data perspective.

The piece did not look at him per se, but that era for the House of Commons. The graphic below was a look at what constituted debates in the chamber using words in speeches as a proxy. Shockingly, Brexit has consumed the House over the last few years.

At least climate change has also ticked upwards?
At least climate change has also ticked upwards?

I love the graphic, as it uses small multiples and fixes the axes for each row and column. It is clean, clear, and concise—just what a graphic should be.

And the rest of the piece makes smart use of graphical forms. Mostly. Smart line charts with background shading, some bar charts, and the only questionable one is where it uses emoji handclaps to represent instances of people clapping the chamber—not traditionally a thing that  happens.

Content wise it also nailed a few important things, chiefly Bercow’s penchant for big words. The piece did not, however, cover his amazing sense of sartorial style vis-a-vis neckties.

Overall a solid piece with which to begin the weekend.

Credit for the piece goes to Ed Lowther & Will Dahlgreen.

Casual Fails?

In a recent Washington Post piece, I came across a graphic style that I am not sure I can embrace. The article looked at the political trifecta at state levels, i.e. single political party control over the government (executive, lower legislative chamber, and upper legislative chamber). As a side note, I do like how they excluded Nebraska because of its unicameral legislature. It’s also theoretically non-partisan (though everybody knows who belongs to which party, so you could argue it’s as partisan as any other legislature).

At the outset, the piece uses a really nice stacked bar chart. It shows how control over the levers of state government have ebbed and flowed.

You can pretty easily spot the recent political eras by the big shifts in power.
You can pretty easily spot the recent political eras by the big shifts in power.

It also uses little black lines with almost cartoonish arrowheads to point to particular years. The annotations are themselves important to the context—pointing out the various swing years. But from an aesthetic standpoint, I have to wonder if the casualness of the marks detracts from the seriousness of the content.

Sometimes the whimsical works. Pie charts about pizza pies or pie toppings can be whimsical. A graphic about political control over government is a different subject matter. Bloomberg used to tackle annotations with a subtler and more serious, but still rounded curve type of approach. Notably, however, Bloomberg at that time went for an against the grain, design forward, stoic business serious second approach.

Then we get to a choropleth map. It shows the current state of control for each state.

X marks the spot?

X marks the spot?However, here the indicator for recent party switches is a set of x’s. These have the same casual approach as the arrows above. But in this case, a careful examination of the x’s indicates they are not unique, like a person drawing a curve with a pen tool. Instead these come from a pre-determined set as the x’s share the exact same shape, stroke lengths and directions.

In years past we probably would have seen the indicator represented by an outline of the state border or a pattern cross-hatching. After all, with the purple being lighter than the blue, the x’s appear more clearly against purple states than blue. I have to admit I did not see New Jersey at first.

Of course, in an ideal world, a box map would probably be clearer still. But the curious part is that the very next map does a great job of focusing the user’s attention on the datapoint that matters: states set for potential changes next November.

Pennsylvania is among the states…
Pennsylvania is among the states…

Here the states of little interest are greyed out. The designers use colour to display the current status of the potential trifecta states. And so I am left curious why the designers did not choose to take a similar approach with the remaining graphics in the piece.

Overall, I should say the piece is strong. The graphics generally work very well. My quibbles are with the aesthetic stylings, which seem out of place for a straight news article. Something like this could work for an opinion piece or for a different subject matter. But for politics it just struck a loud dissonant chord when I first read the piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Kate Rabinowitz and Ashlyn Still.

The Shifting Suburbs

Last we looked at the revenge of the flyover states, the idea that smaller cities in swing states are trending Republican and defeating the growing Democratic majority in big cities. This week I want to take a look at something a few weeks back, a piece from CityLab about the elections in Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

There’s nothing radical in this piece. Instead, it’s some solid uses of line charts and bar charts (though I still don’t generally love them stacked). The big flashy graphic was this, a map of Virginia’s state legislative districts, but mapped not by party but by population density.

Democrats now control a majority of these seats.
Democrats now control a majority of these seats.

It classified districts by how how urban, suburban, or rural (or parts thereof) each district was. Of course the premise of the article is that the suburbs are becoming increasingly Democratic and rural areas increasingly Republican.

But it all goes to show that 2020 is going to be a very polarised year.

Credit for the piece goes to David Montgomery.

I Have an App for That Too

Well, everyone, we made it to Friday. So let’s all reflect on how many things we did on our mobile phones this week. xkcd did. And it’s fairly accurate. Though personally, I would only add that I did not quite use my mobile for a TV remote. Unless you count Chromecasting. In that case I did that too.

What about boarding passes?
What about boarding passes?

If I have to offer a critique, it’s that it makes smart use of a stacked bar chart. I normally do not care for them, but it works well if you are only stacking two different series in opposition to each other.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

How Worldly Is the World Series?

The World Series began Tuesday night. But, as many people reading this blog will know, baseball is not exactly a global sport. But is it really? CityLab looked at the origin of Major League Baseball players and it turns out that almost 30% of the players today are from outside the United States. They have a number of charts and graphics that explore the places of birth of ball players. But one of the things I learned is just how many players hail from the Dominican Republic—since 2000, 12% of all players.

There are quite a few players from countries around the Caribbean.
There are quite a few players from countries around the Caribbean.

The choropleth here is an interesting choice. It’s a default choice, so I understand it. But when so many countries that are being highlighted are small islands in the Caribbean, a geographically accurate map might not be the ideal choice. Really, this map highlights from just how few countries MLB ball players originate.

Fortunately the other graphics work really well. We get bar charts about which cities provide MLB rosters. But the one I really enjoy is where they account for the overall size of cities and see which cities, for every 100,000 people, provide the most ballplayers.

One of the other things I want to pick on, however, is the inclusion of Puerto Rico. In the dataset, the designers included it as a foreign country. When, you know, it’s part of the United States.

Credit for the piece goes to David H. Montgomery.

Canadian Election Results

Yesterday Canada went to the polls for the 43rd time. Their prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has had a bad run of it the last year or so. He’s had some frivolous scandals with wearing questionable fashion choices to some more serious scandals about how he chose to colour his face in his youth to arguably the most serious scandal where an investigation concluded improperly attempted to influence a criminal investigation for political gain. (Sound familiar, American readers?) Consequently, there was some chatter about whether he would lose to the Conservatives.

But nope, Trudeau held on.

So this morning I charted some of the results. It was a bad night for Trudeau, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. He remains in power, albeit head of a minority government.

That's a steep drop in seats, but it could have been worse
That’s a steep drop in seats, but it could have been worse

Credit for the piece goes to me.

Prorogation of Parliament

If you’re among my British/European audience, you are probably well aware Boris Johnson has prorogued, or suspended, Parliament. He and cabinet ministers stated it was a normal, average-length prorogation to prepare for a Queen’s Speech. (The Queen’s Speech is the formal opening of a new session of Parliament that sets out a new legislative agenda and formally closes/kills any unpassed legislation from the old session.) Except that in documents revealed in a Scottish court case, we now know that the real reason was to shut down Parliament to prevent it from interfering in Boris’ plans for a No Deal Brexit. And just this morning the Scottish High Court did indeed rule that the prorogation is illegal. The case now moves to the UK Supreme Court.

But I want to focus on the other claim, that this is a prorogation of average length. Thankfully instead of having to do a week’s hard slog of data, the House of Lords Library posted the data for me. At least since 1900, and that works well enough for me. And so here we go.

Back to the 1930s?
Back to the 1930s?

So yeah, this is not an average prorogument. If you look at only proroguments that do not precede a general election—you need time for the campaigning and then hosting the actual election in those cases—this is the longest prorogument since 1930. (Also, a Parliament does not necessarily need to be prorogued before it is dissolved before an election. And that happened quite often in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.)

And as I point out in the graphic, Parliament was prorogued during the depths of World War II to start new legislative sessions. But in those cases, Parliament opened the very next day, during a time of national crisis. One could certainly make the argument that Brexit is a national crisis. So wherefore the extraordinarily long prorogument? Well, quite simply, Brexit.

Credit for the piece goes to me.

Greenland, the 51st State?

If you haven’t heard, President Trump wants to buy Greenland from Denmark. So is Greenland going to beat Puerto Rico to joining the Union as the 51st state?

No.

Not even close.

It would be the smallest state in terms of population, but also one of the smallest US territories. But in terms of area, Greenland dwarfs every state but Alaska. Though it still beats Alaska by almost 50% of its land area.

It's like a super-charged Seward's Folly
It’s like a super-charged Seward’s Folly

I had hoped to include some more economic data, but that will have to wait for a different post. Acquiring the population data was actually the most difficult—the US Census Bureau does not actually have easy to access data on the populations of US territories not called Puerto Rico.

This piece is mine.

From Frying Pan to the Fires of a War Zone

Moving away from climate change now, we turn to the lovely land of Afghanistan. While the Trump administration continues to negotiate with the Taliban in hopes of ending the war, the war continues to go worse for Afghanistan, its government, and its allies, including the United States.

It is true that US and NATO ally deaths are down since the withdraw of combat troops in 2014. But, violence and sheer deaths are significantly up. And as this article from the Economist points out, the deaths in Afghanistan are now worse than they are in Syria.

The beginning of the article uses a timeline to chart the history of Afghan conflicts as well as the GDP and number of deaths. And it is a fascinating chart in its own right. But I wanted to share this, a small multiples featuring graphic looking at the geographic spread of deaths throughout the country.

Getting hotter (because red obviously means heat)
Getting hotter (because red obviously means heat)

It does a nice job by chunking Afghanistan into discrete areas shaped as hexagons and bins deaths into those areas. All the while, the shape remains roughly that of Afghanistan with the Hindu Kush mountain range in particular overlaid. (Though, I am not sure why it is made darker in the 2003–04 map.)

To highlight particular cities or areas, hexagons are outlined to draw attention to the population centres of interest. But overall, the rise in violence and deaths is clear and unmistakable. And it has spread from what was once pockets in the south to the whole of the country that isn’t mountains or deserts.

Tamerlane would be proud.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

How Mass Shootings Have Changed

A few weeks ago here in the United States, we had the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The Washington Post put together a piece looking at how mass shootings have changed since 1966. And unfortunately one of the key takeaways is that since 1999 they are far too common.

The biggest graphic from the article is its timeline.

Getting worse over time
Getting worse over time

It captures the total number of people killed per event. But, it also breaks down the shootings by admittedly arbitrary time periods. Here it looks at three distinct ones. The first begins at the beginning of the dataset: 1966. The second begins with Columbine High School in 1999, when two high school teenagers killed 13 fellow students. Then the third begins with the killing of 9 worshippers in a African Episcopal Methodist church in Charlestown, South Carolina.

Within each time period, the peaks become more extreme, and they occur more frequently. The beige boxes do a good job of calling out just how frequently they occur. And then the annotations call out the unfortunate historic events where record numbers of people were killed.

The above is a screenshot of a digital presentation. However, I hope the print piece did a full-page printing of the timeline and showed the entire timeline in sequence. Here, the timeline is chopped up into two separate lines. I like how the thin grey rule breaks the second from the third segment. But the reader loses the vertical comparison of the bars in the first segment to those in the second and third.

Later on in the graphic, the article uses a dot plot to examine the age of the mass shooters. There it could have perhaps used smaller dots that did not feature as much overlap. Or a histogram could have been useful as infrequently used type of chart.

Lastly it uses small multiples of line charts to show the change in frequency of particular types of locations.

Overall it’s a solid piece. But the timeline is its jewel. Unfortunately, I will end up talking about similar graphics about mass shootings far too soon in the future.

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Adrian Blanco, Brittany Renee Mayes, Klara Auerbach, and Danielle Rindler.