High-rise Living

I was reading my print edition of the Economist last night and found this graphic—screenshot from the online version—about the rising importance of skyscrapers in the urban landscape.

The article was written after the Grenfell Tower inferno and looks at things that could be done to improve safety in high-rises.

Where's Philly?
Where’s Philly?

Naturally, I was reading this on my 11th story balcony in the high-rise tower block in which I live.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

The Insurance Exchanges

There is a lot to unpack about last Thursday and Sunday. But before we dive into that, a little story from the New York Times that caught my eye from Friday.

Where there are no real options
Where there are no real options

The map shows the counties in the United States where there is one health insurer and no health insurer. Further on in the piece a small multiple gallery shows that progression from 2014 and highlights how the drastic changes are seen only in 2017 and 2018.

The problem is often not that people cannot buy insurance if no insurers are in the marketplace. The marketplace is for federally-subsidised coverage and insureres appear to be moving to offering policies outside the marketplace for non-subsidised customers.

The White House claims Obamacare is in a death spiral. It is not. But after seven years it could use a little maintenance.

Credit for the piece goes to Haeyoun Park and Audrey Carlsen.

Philly Falls from Fifth

Well it finally happened. While the Great Recession spared Philadelphia for several years, Phoenix has finally moved up into the rank of fifth-largest city in the United States.

There are some notable differences that this graphic captures. The big one is that Philly is relatively small at 135 square miles. Phoenix is half the size of Rhode Island. What the graphic does not capture, however, is that Philly is still growing, albeit more slowly than southern and western cities. Because also in the news is the fact that Chicago has shrunk and lost people. Personally I count as a -1 for Chicago and a +1 for Philly.

Comparing size and population
Comparing size and population

Credit for the piece goes to the Philly.com graphics department.

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

UK Spring Budget

The British government is delivering its budget statement today. So as a teaser, the Guardian published this article with six charts to help understand where things are at. Chart-wise there is nothing radical or revolutionary here, but I have a soft spot for articles driven by data visualisation.

Quarterly growth
Quarterly growth

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Marriage Rates

Well, so about that whole Michael Flynn furore thing I wrote about yesterday…. Time to add another name to the list of people to be appointed—as I said, that post isn’t confirmed, merely appointed.

But today is Valentine’s Day. So for all you lovebirds out there, here are some graphics showing how rate of marriages has declined in the United States.

It does a real nice job of presenting the overall national view, but then breaking that down into a state-by-state comparison over time, the small multiples shown below.

I can say that I was in DC for a friend's marriage during that spike
I can say that I was in DC for a friend’s marriage during that spike

My critique would be the labelling. Note how the state label appears above the chart, but how when stacked in a row, the label for the state below appears far closer to the chart above. The first few times I looked at this, I saw the label for the chart as being below. And I was therefore curious why Kansas was so different from the rest of the plains state. It just goes to show you how important spacing and layout can be on the page.

Credit for the piece goes to Matt Stiles.

A Look Back

Well, we are one day away now. And I’ve been saving this piece from the New York Times for today. They call it simply 2016 in Charts, but parts of it look further back while other parts try to look ahead to new policies. But all of it is well done.

I chose the below set of bar charts depicting deaths by terrorism to show how well the designers paid attention to their content and its placement. Look how the scale for each chart matches up so that the total can fit neatly to the left, along with the totals for the United States, Canada, and the EU. What it goes to show you is best summarised by the author, whom I quote “those 63 [American] deaths, while tragic, are about the same as the number of Americans killed annually by lawn mowers.”

Deaths by terrorism
Deaths by terrorism

I propose a War on Lawn Mowers.

The rest of the piece goes on to talk about the economy—it’s doing well; healthcare—not perfect, but reasonably well; stock market—also well; proposed tax cuts—good for the already wealthy; proposed spending—bad for public debt; and other things.

The commonality is that the charts work really well for communicating the stories. And it does all through a simple, limited, and consistent palette.

But yeah, one day away now.

Credit for the piece goes to Steven Rattner.

The Federal Funds Rate

In my new role as data visualisation manager at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, I am learning a lot about what the Fed does and how it does it. Needless to say, this piece from Bloomberg interested me as it displayed how the federal funds rate has changed over time.

How this potential hike cycle would compare to the two previous
How this potential hike cycle would compare to the two previous

What I really enjoy is how they colour-coded the two previous hiking cycles as well as what I think everyone presumes will be a new one. And those colours then move on down the piece into the dot plots. The dot plots show various potential factors in the decision-making process, and just how far off the current hiking cycle is from the two previous.

Credit for the piece goes to Chloe Whiteaker, Jeremy Scott Diamond, and Jeanna Smialek.

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.

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.