Can a Republican Win the White House?

It’s Election Day. Well, not really. But, Nate Silver and the New York Times have come together to release an election simulator, if you will, focused on the chances that a Republican will win the White House.

Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election
Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election

You play with a few different variables to control the outcome: GDP growth and President Obama’s approval rating. These then are computed along with a few other things (I assume) and, like magic, you get to see your Republican pick’s changes of winning the election.

Keep in mind that these are just possible candidates, not necessarily likely candidates. John Huntsman, after all, is polling in the single digits in some of the early primary states. So while the moderate, centre-right, former ambassador to China, ex-governor of Utah looks almost unbeatable in several scenarios, I think most would agree that the Republican base will not vote for him.

But it is scenarios like that of Huntsman that are worth reminding us that perhaps the current party political system we have in the United States does not yield the best candidates for public office, nor the most broadly electable.

Random is the New Orderly

Ever been on a flight where there is not enough overhead luggage capacity for everyone? Then they make you stow your bag anyway? Well, apparently that’s what’s happening in these days of baggage fees—which make airlines quite profitable.

This diagram in the New York Times shows how American Airlines is changing from the more common front-to-back seating of passengers to a random assignment of seats in an attempt to reduce the time spent boarding the plane. After all, not only are baggage fees money, but so is time.

Boarding Diagram
Boarding Diagram

7 Billion Is a Big Number

We have seven billion living on the planet today. Or at least we think we do. Really, who knows? But for the sake of this blog post and many others like it along with news stories and water cooler conversations, let’s just say we’re at seven billion, okay?

So where do you fit into the giant seven billion-ness of the world?

The BBC can tell you.

You enter a few data points such as your birthday and the country in which you live, and you get a customised you-are-a-unique-snowflake report on how special you are.

The graphs are not particularly fancy, but they work. More interesting of the whole set is the world population where you are placed in the context of the global population.

Where You Fit Within the World Population
Where You Fit Within the World Population
Where Your Country of Residence Fits Within the World
Where Your Country of Residence Fits Within the World

Less interesting are the maps, which serve only to show you where in the world your country is located and then those of the greatest and least population growth or life expectancy. The secondary cases could be useful if the countries were small and relatively unknown. But in terms of life expectancy the highest growth is Japan most people know where Japan is located. The other countries noted, Qatar, Moldova, and the Central African Republic are probably less well-known by some, but could the data be better represented? Probably.

That’s a Whole Lotta People

On Halloween, we will welcome the 7 billionth person into this world. That’s a lot of people. And that means a lot of food, water, shelter, comforts, &c. Stress on limited resources could become a defining characteristic of the future.

The Washington Post has an interactive piece with a few graphics out there about the growth of population. This screenshot is from the first tab about consumption. When you press play and watch the highlighted countries move through time and space, you see that the United States has not seen drastic population growth (x-axis) but has, on a per capita level, witnessed a strong growth in consumption (y-axis). Conversely, India and China have seen little growth in personal consumption but have dwarfed all others in population growth. There are very few who countries that have moved greatly in both consumption and population. And that’s probably a good thing.

Population Growth v Consumption Growth
Population Growth v Consumption Growth

If you check out the Future tab, you will also see that in less than twenty years we will all be having another slice of cake for the 8 billionth person in the world…

Credit for the work goes to Patterson Clark, Dan Keating, Grace Koerber and Bill Webster of the Washington Post.

Troop Levels in Iraq

A few days ago, President Obama announced that all but perhaps 150 US troops in Iraq would be home before 1 Jan 2012. While the mission may have been accomplished over 8 years ago, we are finally seeing an end to the Iraq War.

Both the BBC and the New York Times created charts to show the strength of US forces in Iraq since the start of the war up until the end—the New York Times also compares these to troop levels in Afghanistan where we have a new ‘surge’ of troops.

The two are slightly different. The first from the New York Times is an interactive piece that allows you to mouse over each bar and access the actual number of troops present in Iraq that month. The bars are spaced tightly together with only the necessary gap to break apart years and provide the vertical scale.

New York Times chart
New York Times chart

The BBC piece is a static image with no interaction. I do not care for the clustering of years, it breaks the visual rhythm of the piece and interrupts the story. I think in the design of the piece that the New York Times has the better and more effective chart. However, where the BBC truly succeeds is in offering bits of explanation for changes in the chart.

BBC chart
BBC chart

One might think that the war lasted several years with periods of great battles and great troop losses because the  number of soldiers stays roughly at 140 thousand. But the text lets us know otherwise. The first is obvious, the war begins. But it progresses to things like the declaring of mission accomplished, the surge, and when US troops left Iraqi cities.

These are not difficult pieces of analysis, nor do they require much investigatory journalism, but they provide the context that allows the chart to tell the story in its numbers.

Oh Great Gatsby

Income inequality basically means that the wealth of a country, in this case, is unevenly distributed with most of it falling in the hands of a very few people or families. Think the era of, as the title alludes to, Gatsby and the 1920s before the Crash.

Broadly speaking, a middle class requires a more dilute concentration of wealth, and as this graphic from the New York Times shows, we are seeing—Great Recession aside—the growing wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Look at, for example, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when the highest income bracket had its marginal tax rate in the 70% range. The top 1% owned only about 10% of the wealth. Just before the subprime crisis hit, that number was just under 25%.

Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%
Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%

Riding the Rail to London?

Long time readers know by now that I advocate high-speed rail and similar transport infrastructure investment. The following screenshot was taken from a BBC News video about the Russian proposal to build an underground passenger/freight tunnel beneath the Bering Strait to connect eastern Siberia to Alaska.

Screenshot from the video explaining the plan
Screenshot from the video explaining the plan

The video is not an infographic, strictly speaking, but as a motion graphic it depicts the routes needed and compares the length of the proposed tunnel to that of the Chunnel, the tunnel beneath the English Channel. Back in August the Daily Mail also reported on the story and provided the following map showing how exactly the system would then link the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere.

Map of the Proposed Route
Map of the Proposed Route

Of course the big questions that remain are can Russia afford to build the tunnel, will the United States build the rails necessary to link it to the main US–Canadian rail network, and would anyone really use it?

European Debt Crisis Explained

The European debt crisis affects all of us. Shares fall on the exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris and London and then ripple westward to New York before finally reaching Hong Kong and Tokyo. But does anyone understand actually understand who owes whom what?

This interactive piece is yet another from the New York Times and is an online version of a print graphic that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Online, interactivity is used to focus attention on particular elements of the story, highlighting key components of the tangled debt web that anchors the whole piece. The width of the lines relate the difference between borrowers and lenders.

An Overview of the European Debt Crisis
An Overview of the European Debt Crisis

Hidden in the width of the arrows, however, is the gross lending. The lending may appear to cancel itself out, but the banks and other sources of the loans may not all be lending to each other, i.e., some big players could still take a hit if the crisis worsens.

The colours reflect the level of ‘worry’ in the country—though how worry is defined is left unstated.

Different parts of the story and potential scenarios are revealed by clicking buttons on the left-hand side of the piece. Elements of the large graphic that are not needed to tell that part of the story, though remaining pieces remain in place. This is an effective means of reminding the audience where they are situated in the overall web, but I wonder if not a slight shadow or faint trace of the web in the background could have been used instead of losing all the information entirely.

Overall, the interactive piece is quite effective in telling the story. But, because this was in the Sunday paper, the lazy afternoon paper, we also have a large-scale printed infographic that the interactive piece accompanied.

The Printed Explanation
The Printed Explanation

This has a lot more text—dreaded words—to further explain just what is happening. In my mind this adds to the story. For example, what I noted above about the net loans between two parties obscures the gross loans of both sides. This point is explicitly made about Britain and Ireland, which have enjoyed a very strong bilateral trade arrangement for a number of years. This context is added by a little text blurb crafted into the overall design of the piece.

Different scenarios are highlighted at the bottom with a reduction of the main piece creating small multiples of the diagram instead of how the interactive piece removed unnecessary elements. I think this is an equally effective means of solving that problem.

The New York Times created two separate but very much related pieces to explain a story that affects us all. The first media, the interactive piece, takes advantage of the ability to replace on the screen what is not necessary with what is necessary. Further, it allows some data that is not so relevant at first glance to be hidden. Mouse over the various lines and countries to reveal the data behind the problem for each. Do we need this information at first? No. Our first order is to try and work out the web we weaved. Well, that the bankers weaved.

That is very different than the print edition, which cannot be changed. All the content must be available at once. But, the data is made smaller because the print resolution is finer than that of a screen. Small text that might not be legible on a screen can be printed and read just fine. The printed edition also allows more space and thus more text for context. And this is okay knowing that the Sunday paper is likely to be read while relaxing with a fine cup of tea or coffee.

Credit for the piece goes to Bill Marsh.

What’s In a Name?

Gadhafi is dead. Sorry, I meant Kadhafi. Again, apologies, Qadaffy.

For so many years we have tried to spell the now deceased dictators name. It’s been in Saturday Night Live (sadly I cannot find a clip online). It’s been in the West Wing. So how can it be done?

The problem is that his name is in Arabic, which uses a different alphabet and so for the English-speaking world, transliterators must assign Latin alphabet characters to try and replicate the sounds in his name, some of which are unique to Arabic. Ever notice how the holy text of Islam is spelled often Koran or Quran? Just take that same problem and extend it further into a guy’s name.

This graphic, from Wikipedia, shows how the different parts of his name can be transliterated. And very quickly one can see why nobody really knows how to spell the name.

How to spell "the guy's" name.
How to spell "the guy's" name.

The next graphic is from Breaking Copy and depicts the most common ways of spelling the man’s name. The design of the piece is certainly more about entertainment than conveying a learning. But, it goes to illustrate the variance by major respected news organisations, all of whom are reporting on the man’s death. Credit for the piece goes to Daryl Lang.

Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue
Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue

And as a retrospective, news of his death and the liberation of Libya made me think back to my own graphic about some of the very first airstrikes in post from back in March.

Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March
Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March

But, anyway, he’s dead now. So the question is what name does he use on his headstone…

Show Me the Money

Campaign finance is always an interesting subject during election cycles. I believe I have heard that once a congressman wins election he needs to raise $1000 per week to stand a chance of re-election in two years’ time. One need only imagine the difference in scale for presidential contests.

Or do you…

Show Me the Money
Show Me the Money

The New York Times created an interactive piece that details the financing, principally of this year’s primary campaigns, but alongside data from four years ago. Inflation hasn’t been too terrible, so the numbers are relatively comparable.

Of some note, however, is that this time around this is not an ‘open’ election. In 2008 the sitting president was term-limited and his vice president was not running so both the Republicans and Democrats were open contests for any challenger to win. In 2012, President Obama will not (likely) have to fight other Democrats for the nomination of his party and his funding can be marshalled solely against his Republican challengers. Whereas the Republican challengers need to spend considerable amounts of their funding simply to get through the primaries.