Georgia 6th Special Election

Wow do we have a lot to talk about this week. Probably bleeding into next week to be honest. But, last night was the special election for the Georgia 6th.

For those of you not following politics, the congressman representing it was Tom Price; he is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Consequently, Georgia needed to elect a fill-in for the Atlanta-suburbs district. That election was between 18 candidates last night. The race could have been won outright, but it would have required a vote total over 50%.

That did not happen—and realistically with 18 people running was not likely. But, Democrats hoped they could get their candidate in at 50+%.

The live results from early in the evening
The live results from early in the evening

This screenshot is from a nice piece by the New York Times. As you all know by now, I am not a huge fan of choropleth maps. They distort geographic area and population. But, I like the arrangement of these small multiples. It does a nice job of comparing the results for the five major candidates. I particularly like the addition of the 2016 presidential election result. With the cratering poll approvals of Donald Trump, could some of the paler red precincts flip in June?

The results from later in the evening
The results from later in the evening

The above screenshot comes from BuzzFeed, whose coverage I followed via live streaming last night. They used a cartogrammic approach, assuming that cartogrammic is actually a word. The colours could use a bit more sophistication—the best example being the Democratic–Republican margin map where the blues are darker than the reds and have a hopefully unintended greater visual weight.

Credit for the piece

What Does Europe Want from Brexit?

Sorry about last week, everyone. I had some trouble with the database powering the blog here. Great week for things to go down, right? Well, either way, we’re back and it’s not like the news is stopping. This week? Brexit’s back, baby.

I’m never using the word “baby” again on this blog.

I have been saving this piece until the announcement of Article 50 by the UK government. I know the British and Europeans among my audience likely know what that means, but for the rest of you, Article 50 is the formal mechanism by which the United Kingdom starts the two-year process to leave the European Union.

Think of it like signing the divorce papers, except that the divorce isn’t unofficial for two years until after that date. The interim period is figuring out who gets which automobile, the dinnerware, and that ratty-old sofa in the basement. Except that instead of between two people, this divorce is more like a divorce between polygamists with multiples husbands and wives. So yeah, not really like a divorce at all.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale

This piece from the Guardian attempts to explain what the various parties want from the United Kingdom and from the eventual settlement between the UK and the EU. It leads off with a nice graphic about the importance of a few key issues in a cartogram. And then several voting blocs run down the remainder of the page with their key issues.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale

I really like this piece as the small multiples for each section refer back to the opening graphic. But then on a narrow window, e.g. your mobile phone, the small multiples drop off, because really, the location of the few countries mentioned on a cartogram is not terribly important to that part of the analysis. It shows some great understanding of content prioritisation within an article. In a super ideal world, the opener graphic would be interactive so the user could tap the various squares and see the priorities immediately.

But overall, a very solid piece from the Guardian.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

US Foreign Aid

One of the big news stories yesterday centred on the Trump administration’s budget outline that would expand US defence spending by 9%, or $54 billion. That is quite a lot of money. More worrying, however, was the draft’s directive that it be accompanied by equal spending cuts in neither security nor entitlement programmes like Social Security and Medicare. Nor, obviously, the trillions allocated for mandatory spending, e.g. debt repayment.

White House officials—worth noting of the Trump-despised anonymous type that I suppose that only matters if reporting unflattering news—declined to get into specifics, but pointed out foreign aid as an area likely to receive massive cuts.

Problem is, foreign aid is one of the smallest segments of the federal budget. How small? Well, let’s segue into today’s post—see how smooth that was—from the Washington Post. The article dates from October, but was just brought to my attention to one of my mates.

Foreign aid spending is a small fraction of the budget
Foreign aid spending is a small fraction of the budget

Beyond this graphic that leads the piece, the Post presents numerous cartograms and other graphics that detail spending patterns. Hint, there is a pattern. But those patterns could also make it difficult to slash said spending.

The reason foreign aid spending is important is that it ties nicely into that concept of soft power. No surprise that over 120 retired generals and admirals told Congress that spending on diplomacy and foreign aid is “critical to keeping America safe”.

But for now this remains a budget outline sent to federal agencies to review. The actual budget fight is yet to come. So I’m sure this won’t be the last time we look at this topic here on Coffeespoons.

Credit for the piece goes to Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio.

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.

Predicting the Electoral College

Well the Democratic DC primaries were last Tuesday and Hillary Clinton won. So now we start looking ahead towards the July conventions and then the November elections. Consequently, if a day is an eternity in politics we have many lifespans to witness before November. But that does not mean we cannot start playing around with electoral college scenarios.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice scenario prediction page that leads with the 2012 results map, in both traditional map and cartogram form. You can play god and flip the various states to either red or blue. But from the interaction side the designers did something really interesting. Flipping a state requires you to click and hold the state. But the speed with which it then flips is not equal for all states. Instead, the length of hold time depends upon the state’s likelihood to be a flippable state, based on the state’s partisan voter index. For example, if you try and flip Kansas, you will have to wait awhile to see the state turn blue. But try and flip North Carolina and the flip is near instantaneous.

Starting with the 2012 cartogram
Starting with the 2012 cartogram

While the geographic component remains on the right, the left-hand column features either text, or as in this other screenshot, smaller charts that illustrate the points more specifically.

Charts and cartograms and text, oh my
Charts and cartograms and text, oh my

Taken all together, the piece does a really nice job of presenting users with a tool to make predictions of their own. The different sections with concepts and analysis guide the user to see what scenarios fall within the realm of reason. But, what takes the cake is that flipping interaction. Using a delay to represent the likelihood of a flip is brilliant.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Zitner, Randy Yeip, Julia Wolfe, Chris Canipe, Jessia Ma, and Renée Rigdon.

The History and Future of Data Visualisation

From time to time in my job I hear the desire or want for more different types of charts. But in this piece by Nick Brown over on Medium, we can see that there are really only a few key forms and some are already terrible—here’s looking at you, pie charts. How new are some of these forms? Turns out most are not that new—or very new depending on your history/timeline perspective. Brown illustrated that timeline by hand.

A timeline of chart forms
A timeline of chart forms

Worth the read is his thoughts on what is new for data visualisation and what might be next. No spoilers.

Credit for the piece goes to Nick Brown.

It’s All the Hex

If you have not noticed, lots of news sites are using a variant of the cartogram lately. Basically, the idea is that geographic maps have the limitation of accurately representing landmass. And that means small polities, e.g. Rhode Island or Belgium, that might be quite important are visibly not so much, because they are geographically small. These pseudo-cartograms sort of do the trick by making all polities the same size. The trade off? Geographic fidelity. Anyway, there is an intelligent piece worth reading over at the NPR blogs explaining the thought process going on there about why to use the form. (You may recall I wrote about a similar project for London boroughs back in February.)

Hex map
Hex map

Credit for the piece goes to Danny DeBelius.

Old Healthcare Policy Renewal

Let’s start this week off with cartograms. Sometimes I like the idea, sometimes not so much. Here is a case where I really do not care for the New York Times’ visualisation of the data. Probably because the two cartograms, a before and after of health policy renewals, do not really allow for a great side-by-side comparison. I imagine there is probably a way of condensing all of that information into a single chart or graphic component.

The before map
The before map

Credit for the piece goes to Keith Collins, Josh Katz, Katie Thomas, Archie Tse, and Karen Yourish.

Cartograms

Continuing this week’s map theme, we have an example of a cartogram from the New York Times. This piece supplements an article about how some manufacturing companies are starting to look away from China as a place for their facilities. There are two maps, the first (not shown here) looks at economic output overall. The second (below) takes that output and accounts for population.

GDP per capita
GDP per capita

Hexagons are used instead of the more familiar squares to represent 500,000 people and the colour is the GDP per capita. The text accompanying the graphic explains how this is a measure of economic potential being (or not being) realised. But what the hexagons allow the map to do is better represent the shapes of the countries. Squares, more common in cartograms, create awkward box-like outlines of countries. That would be fine if countries were often shaped like squares, but they are not.

I am not often a fan of cartograms, but I find this one well executed and the annotations and explanatory text make what might otherwise be confusing far simpler to understand. All in all, a solid piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock and Keith Bradsher.