The Paths to 270

There is one day to go until the presidential of 2012. But despite what many say and a fewer number want, the United States is not a democracy. It was never meant to be. Instead it is a democratic republic. We elect people who make decisions for us. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood ways in which this happens is through the election for the president.

The popular vote does not matter. If the popular vote did matter, Al Gore would have been elected president in 2000, not George Bush. Instead, your state’s electors matter because they belong to something called the electoral college. Different states have different numbers of electors (loosely based on their political representation in Congress). Given which states are certain to vote for President Obama (Illinois) and Governor Romney (Georgia), there are only a few states that are available for either to win (Ohio).

Different combinations of states can be had to reach 270 electoral college votes, which is the number necessary to become president. While Governor Romney might be able to make 50.1% of the national vote, as this interactive piece from the New York Times shows, his path to 270 votes is very narrow and he cannot stray too far and still hope to win. And it is because of this fact (generally speaking) that many, e.g. Nate Silver of the New York Times, are saying that a re-election of President Obama is far more likely than a Governor Romney victory.

There are two ways to really play with it. First, select different states and see how many different routes are left open to Governor Romney. The second is to leave the selections blank and then follow the flow chart given by the New York Times.

Play with the Toggles Until You Get a Winner
Play with the Toggles Until You Get a Winner
Follow the Red Road for Romney
Follow the Red Road for Romney

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock and Shan Carter.

Sandy’s Winds

Hurricane Sandy also brought quite a lot of wind. Before the storm landed just south of Atlantic City I was travelling east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And as the map below from the New York Times illustrates, I was driving through not insignificant winds (with quite a few more powerful gusts). In the first few hours after landfall, the winds within 100 miles of Sandy’s centre—which was due to pass within miles of my hometown—continued to whip everything exposed to the environment. Thankfully after those first few hours, things began to calm very quickly.

Sandy's Forecast Wind Speeds
Sandy's Forecast Wind Speeds

The link through the image above is an animation of sorts of the timeline of wind forecasts.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock and Shan Carter.

Drone Wars

This is a small interactive piece by the Washington Post that looks at the drone wars being waged by the United States specifically in Pakistan and then Yemen/Somalia. Clicking on a specific date in the timeline brings that date into focus with articles about the attacks in question.

Drone Wars
Drone Wars

What would have perhaps been interesting is a comparison of the number and location of drone strikes between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Regardless, it illuminates a dark front of our ongoing wars.

Credit for the piece goes to Julie Tate, Emily Chow, Jason Bartz, Jeremy Bowers, Anup Kaphle and Olga Khazan.

My Electoral College Prediction

So my airport card still is not working on my laptop. And I am heading back east into the cold embrace of Sandy so who knows if I’ll have access to the internet while on holiday. But because of those two things, this is my official forecast for the election on 6 November. Granted, a big disaster (such as a $1 billion dollar storm) or a big gaffe (anything that Joe Biden says) could change the race, but that’s becoming increasingly less likely as we wrap up the final days of the campaign.

So thanks to the Huffington Post’s election map dashboard (click here or the image to go and make your own):

My Electoral College Prediction
My Electoral College Prediction

In short, I think Obama holds most of the states he won in 2008, but drops Indiana and North Carolina. He might still lose Florida, but with the better-than-expected economic growth figures out earlier today, I suspect that will halt Romney’s gains and perhaps roll them back just a bit.

Playing in the Swing States

The 2012 elections are now less than two weeks away and so let the sporting analogies begin. We’re in the home stretch now. Homeruns, field goals, and running out the clock. Et cetera et cetera ad nauseam.

But over at the New York Times we have an interactive piece that looks at what they call the state of play of the swing states in terms of the latest tracking polls at a state level along with campaign stops and commentary from the paper. It’s a concise way to look at those few states that will largely determine the outcome of the election.

Swing states
Swing states

Show Me Some Swing

Problems with my access to the tubes of the internets prevented me from posting this piece last week. But it’s still good and still relevant, especially in the wake of last night’s presidential debate. The New York Times and the FiveThirtyEight forecast came together to create this interactive flow chart, if you will, of the ebb and flow of electoral politics.

Show Me Some Swing
Show Me Some Swing

Two different views, one based on electoral votes and the other on the margin of victory, determine the basic chart type. But both let you watch swings states vacillate between Republican and Democratic support. Context is provided to the side of the main graphic to explain just what was going on in particular elections.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, and Amanda Cox.

The Red Sox Were Truly Awful in 2012

The Boston Red Sox hired John Farrell this weekend to be their manager just one season after hiring Bobby Valentine for the role. There is a lot to be said about just who is to blame about the Red Sox’ awful season. But it was pretty awful. How awful? The Boston Globe shows us in this interactive piece.

It’s a series of small multiples of line charts. However, one of the big problems with the infographic is that the labels are entirely absent. As best I can tell the line is the number of games over .500, i.e. an even split between wins and losses. But, it could be more clearly called out if not in the legend or on the axes than in the title.

But over all it does put this past season into a sober perspective.

How Bad is Bad? Awful, it Turns Out.
How Bad is Bad? Awful, it Turns Out.

Credit for the piece goes to Daigo Fujiwara.

Tracking the Royal Navy in World War I

I’ve always liked naval history. So I was pleased when several days ago this movie of Royal Navy ship movements during World War I was released. Using data from navigation logs, it plots the locations of the UK’s naval ships throughout the course of the war and so when played out over time you see the changes in those positions. The screen capture below shows just how much the UK depended on guarding the trans-Atlantic convoys. But also note the UK’s operations on rivers deep inside China.

Escorting the convoys
Escorting the convoys

My only complaint is that I could not find a way to slow it down or pause it once it had started.

Credit for the piece goes to CartoDB and Zooniverse, via the Guardian.

Absentee Ballots

This graphic comes from a set by the New York Times that looks at absentee and mail-in ballots, which are particularly popular in western states. The representation of the absentee ballot from Minnesota in 2008 is then examined to see which areas were the reasons for discounted ballots.

Minnesota's 2008 ballot
Minnesota's 2008 ballot

Follow the directions to the best of your abilities, people. Make your vote count.

The Drop in the Unemployment Rate and How to Spin It

On Friday we received the monthly jobs report. And the furore that arose with it. Principally the anger stemmed from right-leaning commentators who believed that the non-partisan Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government agency tasked with collecting data on employment among other metrics, “cooked the books”/ “massaged the figures”/ flat-out lied to show a significant drop in the unemployment rate that could not be attributed to people who had stopped looking for work—a cause of some earlier drops over the last few years. As someone who works with data originally collected from national statistics offices across the world on a daily basis, those claims touched a nerve. But I shall leave that rant for another time.

Instead let’s look at the New York Times piece that quickly followed on the outrage of fools. We can look at and analyse the data in different ways—the origin of the phrase lies, damned lies, and statistics—and surely the Republican and Democratic parties would do just that. They did. This New York Times piece shows how that can be—and was—done. It involves points of reference and context.

First the facts:

The Facts
The Facts

Then how the Democrats spin them:

Spin it from the left…
Spin it from the left…

Finally how the Republicans spin them:

Then spin it from the right.
Then spin it from the right.

But the facts themselves do not lie. 114,000 non-farm jobs were added to payrolls. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8%, the lowest rate since January 2009.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Amanda Cox and Kevin Quealy.