Revenge of the Flyover States

Just before Halloween, NBC News published an article by political analyst David Wasserman that examined what airports could portend about the 2020 American presidential election. For those interested in politics and the forthcoming election, the article is well worth the read.

The tldr; Democrats have been great at winning over cosmopolitan types in global metropolitan areas in the big blue states, e.g. New York and California. But the election will be won in the states where the metropolitan areas that sport regional airports dominate, i.e. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. And in those districts, support for Democrats is waning.

The closing line of the piece sums it up nicely:

…to beat Trump, Democrats will need to ask themselves which candidates’ proposals will fly in Erie, Saginaw and Green Bay.

But what about the graphics?

We have a line chart that shows how support for Democrats has been increasing amongst those in the global and international airport metros.

Democrats aren't performing well with the non-global and international types of metros
Democrats aren’t performing well with the non-global and international types of metros

It uses four colours and I don’t necessarily love that. However, it smartly ties into an earlier graphic that did require each series to be visualised in a different colour. And so here the consistency wins out and carries on through the piece. (Though as a minor quibble I would have outlined the MSA being labelled instead of placing a dot atop the MSA.)

A lot of these global metros are in already blue states
A lot of these global metros are in already blue states

The kicker, however is one of those maps with trend arrows. It shows the increasing Republican support by an arrow anchored over the metropolitan area.

Lot of Trump support in the battleground states
Lot of Trump support in the battleground states

The problem here is many-fold. First, the map is actually quite small in the overall piece. Whereas the earlier maps sit centred, but outside the main text block, this fits neatly within the narrow column of text (on a laptop display at least). That means that these labels are all crowded and actually make it more difficult to realise which arrow is which city. For example, which line is Canton, Ohio? Additionally with the labels, because they are set in black text and a relatively bolder face, they standout more than the red lines they seek to label. Consequently, the users’ focus falls not on the lines, but actually on the labels—the reverse of what a good graphic should do.

Second, length vs. angle. If all lines moved away from their anchor at the same angle, we could simply measure length and compare the trending support that way. However, it is clear from Duluth and Green Bay that the angles are different in addition to their sizes. So how does one interpret both variables together?

Third, I wonder if the map would not have been made more useful with some outlines or shading. I may know what the forthcoming battleground states are. And I might know where they are on a map. But Americans are notorious for being, well, not great when it comes to geography. A simple black outline of the states could have been useful, though it in this design would have conflicted with the heavy black labelling of the arrows. Or maybe a purple shading could have been used to show those states.

Overall, the piece is well worth a read and the graphics generally help tell the narrative visually. But that final graphic could have used a revision or two.

Credit for the piece goes to Jiachuan Wu and Jeremia Kimelman.

Bar Chart Bombshells

Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the New York Times broke the story that they had some of President Trump’s tax return information. For decades now, US presidents and candidates for that office have released their tax returns for the public to inspect. Trump has refused, often claiming that they are under audit from the IRS and then adding, and falsely claiming, they cannot be released whilst under audit. Consequently, when the Times publishes an article at the secret world of Trump’s finances, it’s a big news thing.

Unfortunately, the Times only had access to what are essentially summary transcripts of the returns. And only for a period in the mid-1980s through mid-1990s. So we cannot get the granular data and make deeper insights. But what we did get was turned into this bold graphic in the middle of the article.

That's a whole lotta red. And not the good kind for a Republican.
That’s a whole lotta red. And not the good kind for a Republican.

Conceptually, there is not much to say. The bar charts are a solid choice to represent this kind of data. Red makes sense given the connotation of “being in the red”. And the annotations providing quotes from Trump about his finances for the years highlighted provide excellent context.

What the screenshot does not truly capture, however, is the massiveness of the chart in the context of the rest of the article. It’s big, bold, and red. That design choice instead of, say, making it a smaller sidebar-like graphic, goes a long way in hitting home the sheer magnitude of these business losses.

Sometimes it’s not always fancy and shiny charts that garner the most attention. Sometimes an old staple can do wonders.

Credit for the piece goes to Rich Harris and Andrew Rossback.

Trade War Retaliation

About a week and a half ago the Economist published an article about the retaliatory actions of the European Union and China against the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. Of course last week we had a theme of sorts with lineages and ancestry. So this week, back to the fun stuff.

What makes today’s piece particularly relevant is that over the weekend, Trump announced he might increase the tariffs proposed, but not yet implemented, upon Chinese goods. So some economists looked at the retaliatory tariffs proposed by the EU and China.

Ultimately Trump's tariffs are not paid by foreign governments, but by US citizens.
Ultimately Trump’s tariffs are not paid by foreign governments, but by US citizens.

Each targets Trump voters, albeit of different types. But China appears more willing to engage in a brutal fight. Its tariff proposal would not just harm Trump voters, but would also harm Chinese citizens. The EU’s plan appears tailored to maximise the pain on Trump voters, but minimise that felt by its own citizens.

A few minor points. I like how the designers chose to highlight high impact categories with colour. Lower impact shares are two shades of light grey. But after that, the scale changes. I wonder how the maps would compare if each had been set to the same scale. It looks doable as the bottom range of the maximum bin is 6% for the EU and 8% for China. (Their high limit is much higher at 22% compared to the EU’s 10%.)

That said, it does a good job of showing the different geographic footprints of the two retaliatory tariff packages. Tomorrow—barring breaking news—we will look at why that is important.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

The Bill Barr Bifurcation

So today’s piece is not a revolutionary piece of information design, but it is fascinating. For two or so years now, we have all heard about the Robert Mueller investigation into potential contacts between the Trump campaign, early administration, and the administration of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

To be clear, thus far, this has been an incredibly productive special counsel.

34: the number of indictments

6: guilty pleas from associates of the Trump campaign

But what happens when the whole thing is done, especially since prevailing Justice Department rules state sitting presidents cannot be indicted? Well to answer that, we have this piece from the Washington Post.

I'm hoping the report isn't…Barred…
I’m hoping the report isn’t…Barred…

Ultimately it is nothing more than a flow chart broken into pieces, separated by a textual narrative explaining the process. Now, I’m not certain how critical to the design each headshot is—especially Barr’s that looks especially frowny faced. However, the context in the above screenshot is crucial. The public does not necessarily have the right to the findings of the report if individuals in the report are not charged.

This means that design wise, we are looking at snippets of a larger chart interspersed with text. I would be interested to see the entire thing stitched together, but the textual breaks make a lot of sense. Overall, much like the sports pieces we looked at recently, this does a nice job of weaving textual story together with information design or data-driven content.

Credit for the piece goes to Dan Keating and Aaron Steckelberg.

Trump Keeps Attacking the Special Counsel

Yesterday the New York Times published a fascinating piece looking at the data on how often President Trump has gone after the Special Counsel’s investigation. (Spoiler: over 1100 times.) It makes use of a number of curvy line charts showing the peaks of mentions of topics and people, e.g. Jeff Sessions. But my favourite element was this timeline.

All the dots. So many dots.
All the dots. So many dots.

It’s nothing crazy or fancy, but simple small multiples of a calendar format. The date and the month are not particular important, but rather the frequency of the appearances of the red dots. And often they appear, especially last summer.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan and Karen Yourish.

Government Officials Using Private Devices

Earlier this week the news broke that President Trump refuses to use his government-issued iPhone for all his communications and prefers his private, unsecured device. This of course means, and reports indicate is happening, that Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies can listen in on his calls.

So how about those private e-mail servers?

Happy Friday, all.

Just saying…
Just saying…

Tracking the Charges and Convictions

In case you missed it somehow, the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, is now also an unnamed, unindicted criminal co-conspirator in a federal campaign election law case in New York to which his co-conspirator pled guilty.

And you thought Obama’s tan suit was bad.

The guilty plea by Michael Cohen and the eight convictions of Paul Manafort are all part of a growing scandal surrounding the White House. Thankfully the New York Times published a piece highlighting the results of the various trials. In short, the former National Security Advisor has pled guilty, as has a former campaign advisor, a former deputy campaign manager/transition leader/early administration staffer, and another campaign advisor. Throw in yesterday’s news and this table will get longer.

How much longer will the table get?
How much longer will the table get?

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

The Freedom of the Press

By now you may have heard that this Thursday media outlets across the United, joined by some international outlets as well, have all published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press and the dangers of the office of the President of the United States declaring unflattering but demonstrably true coverage “fake news”. And even more so, declaring journalists, especially those that are critical of the government, “enemies of the people”.

I have commented upon this in the past, so I will refrain from digressing too much, but the sort of open hostility towards objective reality from the president threatens the ability of a citizenry to engage in meaningful debates on public policy. Let us take the clearly controversial idea of gun control; it stirs passions on both sides of the debate. But, before we can have a debate on how much or how little to regulate guns we need to know the data on how many guns are out there, how many people own them, how many are used in crimes, in lethal crimes, are owned legally or illegally. That data, that verifiably true data exists. And it is upon those numbers we should be debating the best way to reduce the numbers of children massacred in American schools. But, this president and this administration, and certain elements of the citizenry refuse to acknowledge data and truth and instead invent their own. And in a world where 2+2=5, no longer 4, who is to say next that no, 2+2=6.

There are hundreds of editorials out there.

Read one from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, and/or the New York Times.

But the one editorial board that started it is that of the Boston Globe. I was dreading how to tie this very important issue into my blog, which you all know tries to focus on data and design. As often as I stand upon my soap box, I try to keep this blog a little less soapy. Thankfully, the Globe incorporated data into their argument.

The end of their post concludes with a small interactive piece that presents survey data. It shows favourability and trustworthiness ratings for several media outlets broken out into their political leanings. The screenshot below is for the New York Times.

Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently
Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently

The design is simple and effective. The darker the red, the more people believe an outlet to be trustworthy and how favourably they view it.

But before wrapping up today’s post, I also want to share another bit from that same Boston Globe editorial. As some of you may know, George Orwell’s 1984 is one of my favourite books of all time. I watched part of a rambling speech by the president a few weeks ago and was struck at how similar his line was to a theme in that novel. I am glad the Globe caught it as well.

Credit for this piece goes to the Boston Globe design staff.

Philly Rules

Yo. C’mon, bro. This jawn is getting tired. Just stop already.

If you did not catch it this week, the most important news was Donald Trump disinviting the Super Bowl champions Eagles to the White House to celebrate their victory over the Patriots. He then lied about Eagles players kneeling during the US anthem—no player did during the 2017 season. He then claimed that the Eagles abandoned their fans. Yeah, good luck convincing the city of that.

So naturally we have a Friday graphic for youse.

That's 25,304.
That’s 25,304.

Full disclosure: I root for the Patriots. But I mean, seriously, can’t youse guys do the math?