Election Day

The 2018 midterm elections are finally here. Thankfully for political nerds like myself, the New York Times homepage had a link to a guide of when what polls close (as early as 18.00 Eastern).

I'm not saying you can't keep voting. You just can't keep voting here.
I’m not saying you can’t keep voting. You just can’t keep voting here.

It makes use of small multiples to show when states close and then afterwards which states have closed and which remain open. It also features a really nice bar chart that looks at when we can expect results. Spoiler: it could very well be a late night.

But what I really wanted to look at was some of the modelling and forecasts. Let’s start with FiveThirtyEight, because back in 2016 they were one of the only outlets forecasting that Donald Trump had a shot—although they still forecast Hillary Clinton to win. They have a lot of tools to look at and for a number of different races: the Senate, the House, and state governorships. (To add further interest, each comes in three flavours: a lite model, the classic, and the deluxe. Super simply, it involves the number of variables and inputs going into the model.)

The Deluxe House model
The Deluxe House model

The above looks at the House race. The first thing I want to point out is the control on the left, outside the main content column. Here is where you can control which model you want to view. For the whimsical, it uses different burger illustrations. As a design decision, it’s an appropriate iconographic choice given the overall tone of the site. It is not something I would have been able to get away with in either place I have worked.

But the good stuff is to the right. The chart at the top shows the percentage of likelihood of a particular outcome. Because there are so many seats—435 are up for vote—every additional seat is between almost 0 and 3%. But taken in total, the 80% confidence band puts the likely Democratic vote tally at what those arrows at the bottom show. In this model that means picking up between 20 and 54 seats with a model median of 36. You will note that this 80% says 20 seats. The Democrats will need 23 to regain the majority. A working majority, however, will require quite a few more. This all goes to show just how hard it will be for the Democrats to gain a workable majority. (And I will spare you a review of the inherent difficulties faced by Democrats because of Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 election and census.) Keep in mind with FiveThirtyEight’s model that they had Trump with a 29% chance of victory on Election Day 2016. Probability and statistics say that just because something is unlikely, e.g. the Democrats gaining less than 20 seats (10% chance in this model), it does not mean it is impossible.

The cartogram below, however, is an interesting choice. Fundamentally I like it. As we established yesterday, geographically large rural districts dominate the traditional map. So here is a cartogram to make every district equal in size. This really lets us see all the urban and suburban districts. And, again, as we talked about yesterday, those suburban districts will be key to any hope of Democratic success. But with FiveThirtyEight’s design, compared to City Lab’s, I have one large quibble. Where are the states?

As a guy who loves geography, I can roughly place, for example, Kentucky. So once I do that I can find the Kentucky 6th, which will have a fascinating early closing race that could be a predictor of blue waviness. But where is Kentucky on the map? If you are not me, it might be difficult to tell. So compared to yesterday’s cartogram, the trade-off is that I can more easily see the data here, but in yesterday’s piece I could more readily find the district for which I wanted the data.

Over on the Senate side, where the Democrats face an even more uphill battle than in the House, the bar chart at the top is much clearer. You can see how each seat breakdown, because there are so fewer seats, has a higher percentage likelihood of success.

In the Senate, things don't look good for the Democrats
In the Senate, things don’t look good for the Democrats

The take away? Yeah, it looks like a bad night for the Democrats. The only question will be how bad does it go? A good night will basically be the vote split staying as it is today. A great night is that small chance—20%, again compared to Trump’s 29% in 2016—the Democrats narrowly flip the Senate.

Below the bar chart is a second graphic, a faux-cartogram with a hexagonal bar chart of sorts sitting above it. This shows the geographic distribution of the seats. And you can quickly understand why the Democrats will not do well. They are defending a lot more seats in competitive states than Republicans. And a lot of those seats are in states that Trump won decisively in 2016.

That's a lot of red states…
That’s a lot of red states…

I have some ideas about how this type of data could be displayed differently. But that will probably be a topic for another day. I do like, however, how those seats up for election are divided into their different categories.

Unfortunately my internet was down this morning and so I don’t have time to compare FiveThirtyEight to other sites. So let’s just wrap this up.

Overall, what this all means is that you need to go vote. Polls and modelling and guesswork is all for nought if nobody actually, you know, votes.

Credit for the poll closing time map goes to Astead W. Herndon and Jugal K. Patel.

Credit for the FiveThirtyEight goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Midterm Challengers

My initial plan for today was that I was not going to run anything light-hearted and focus instead on next week’s elections. But I still love xkcd so I checked that out and…well, here we go.

Your 2018 midterm challengers
Your 2018 midterm challengers

At the broadest view, much is unintelligible on the map. But, you can see a lot of blue, or in other words, there are a lot of Democratic challengers to a Republican House, Senate, and state governments. That’s right, it’s also covering state races, e.g. gubernatorial races. But at this level, the difficulty is in seeing any of the details.

The one problem I had with the map was the zoom. On a computer you can double-click or mouse scroll for the zoom, but I was looking for little buttons. Admittedly it took me a few moments to figure it out until I moused over the map to get the tooltip, which of course provided the instructions.

Once you zoom in, however, you can see the details of the map. This here is focused on southeastern Pennsylvania.

Lot of Democratic challengers here in southeastern Pennsylvania
Lot of Democratic challengers here in southeastern Pennsylvania

The key to the map is an interesting mix of values as the typographic size of the candidate is related to both their odds of success as well as the importance of their office. So in this view we can see an interesting juxtaposition. Chrissy Houlahan and Mary Gay Scanlon, for example, are running for suburban Philadelphia congressional districts. However, Scott Wagner is running for the arguably higher office of Pennsylvania governor. But his name is fairly small compared to the two women. And just above Scott? Lou Barletta. He is running for one of Pennsylvania’s two senate seats, challenging incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Clearly neither is forecasted to have great success whereas Houlahan and Scanlon are.

Of course the map lacks a scale to say what represents breakeven odds. It is also difficult to isolate the degree to which a level of office influences the size of a challenger’s name. That makes the map less useful as a tool for looking at potential outcomes for Tuesday.

The tooltip that revealed the instructions, however, also had one more big tip. If you found the map needed an update, the instructions were to submit your ballot on 6 November.

Anyway, this is just a reminder to find your polling place over the weekend and get prepared to vote on Tuesday. In the meantime, have a good weekend.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe, Kelsey Harris, and Max Goodman.

Pages of Polls and Forecasts

We are now one week away from the midterm elections here in the United States. Surprisingly, we are going to be looking at election-y things over the course of the next week or so. But before we delve into that, I wanted to focus on the homepage for FiveThirtyEight, the below screenshot is from my laptop.

The homepage as of 30 October
The homepage as of 30 October

The reason I wanted to call attention to it is that right-most column of content. The site does a great job of succinctly providing the latest forecasts and polling number on the two main midterm results, federal representation in the House and Senate, along with polling numbers for President Trump.

Starting from the bottom, the polling numbers chart works really well. It clearly and effectively shows the latest approval/disapproval numbers and their longer term trend whilst providing a link to a page of deeper data. It’s very effective.

Moving up we have the House forecasts. These are tricker to see because so many of the more urban and suburban districts are inherently small geographically ergo very difficult to see in a small map. But the map does the job of at least providing some data along with the key takeaway of the odds of the Democrats flipping or Republicans retaining the House. Again, not surprisingly, it offers a link into the data.

The Senate map is the one where I have the most difficulty. Now when we get to the actual page—hopefully later this week—the map shown makes perfect sense because it exists in a large space. That space is needed to show two hexagons that represent each state’s two senators. But, similar to the problem with the House districts, the Northeast is so geographically cramped that it is difficult to show the senators from Maine through Maryland clearly. I wonder if some of the other visualisations on their Senate forecast page would have been a better choice. However, they do at least provide those odds at the top of the graphic.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight design department.

The Global Middle Class

Even the Washington Post admits there sort of is no such thing, because standards vary across the world. But broadly speaking, you have enough for the essentials and then a little extra to spend discretionarily. The concept really allows us to instead benchmark global progress in development. Regardless, yesterday the Post published a calculator that allows you to compare household income across the world to that global middle class.

A 40k earning American is at the very top of the global middle class
A 40k earning American is at the very top of the global middle class

The catch, however, is that income is priced in US dollars, which is the currency of very few countries. But thankfully, the Post gives the methodology behind the calculator at the end of the piece so you can understand that and the other little quirks, like rural vs. urban China.

From a design standpoint, there is not much to quibble with. I probably would not have opted for red vs. green to showcase global middle and global lower-than-middle class. But the concept certainly works.

Credit for the piece goes to Leslie Shapiro and Heather Long.

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.

The Sinking City of Jakarta

Everyone is probably familiar with Venice, slowly sinking below the Adriatic. But, did you know the city of Jakarta, Indonesia is also sinking?

The BBC published an informative article about the city’s looming problem and the piece includes several nice graphics. The screenshot below is an interactive timeline of the amount of subsidence, or sinking, in the the Jakarta region. It’s been notably worst along the coast. But the striking part are the forecasts for 2025 and 2050 that place the city in danger.

The coastline at the north has experienced the worst of it
The coastline at the north has experienced the worst of it

Photography of the scale of the subsidence feature throughout the story. And about halfway through is a nice motion graphic piece that attempts to explain the sinking. I am not certain it is the best graphic, after all it references two US NBA stars and I wonder how well known they are. (Whereas everyone clearly knows who David Ortiz is.)

I was aware of Jakarta’s peril, but until reading this article, I had not realised just how imperiled the city really is.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

T Minus 12 Weeks

Today is Tuesday, 14 August. We are now 12 weeks away from the 2018 midterms. That is just three months away. Coverage will only intensify in the weeks to come, and you can be certain that if there are pieces worth noting, I will do that. But to mark the date I went with this choropleth map from the New York Times.

The nation will turns its eyes to you…in 12 weeks
The nation will turns its eyes to you…in 12 weeks

Nothing too crazy here. Likelihood of results colour the districts. The darker the blue, the more solid the Democratic seat. The darker the red, the more solid the Republican one. But what this map does really well is it excludes the likely’s and the solids and sets them to a light, neutral grey. You can still hover over a district if you are curious about where it falls, but, in general those have been excluded from the consideration set because they are not the districts of the most national attention.

Secondly, note the state labels. States like Wyoming that have no competitive seats have no label. After all, why are we labelling things that have no impact on this story, again, the competitive races. Fewer labels means fewer distracting elements in the graphic.

Finally, the piece includes the ability to zoom into a region. After all, for those of us living in urban areas, our districts are geographically tiny compared to the at-large or state-wide seats like in Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Alaska. Otherwise, good luck trying to find the Illinois 5th or Pennsylvania 3rd.

Credit for the piece goes to Jasmine C. Lee.

Fundraising for the Midterms

We are now less than 100 days away—95 to be exact—from the 2018 midterm elections here in the United States. As we get closer and closer we not only get more information from polls, but also campaign finance reports. Those can sometimes serve as a proxy for support as lots of grassroots support can dump lots of cash in a candidate’s war chest. Wheras a candidate who drums up little support might find him or herself with scant funds to fight the campaign.

So what does that funding tell us right now? Well last week Politico posted an article looking at that data. They broke the dataset into chunks by the likelihood of the results. This screenshot is of Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District.

What's going on north of Philly
What’s going on north of Philly

Each district is represented by a dot plot, with the total money raised by each candidate plotted, the distance in grey being the amount by which the Democrat outraised the Republican.

This is a nice piece as the hover state provides a nice grey bar behind the district to focus the user’s attention. Then for the secondary level of information in terms of cash on hand for the Democrats, i.e. who has cash now, we get the dot filled in versus the open state for simply money raised. Then of course the hover state reveals the actual numbers for the two candidates along with the difference between the two.

The funny thing with this particular district, the Pennsylvania 1st, is that Wallace is not necessarily raising a lot of money. He is a self-funding millionaire. He also is not the most electable Democrat in a competitive seat. It will be fascinating to watch how this particular district performs over the next few months, but most importantly in November.

Credit for the piece goes to Sarah Frostenson.

For Whom to Root

The World Cup continues. Well for a few teams. Some have already been eliminated from the Round of 16. But for those Americans rooting for Team America, well, if you have not yet figured it out, you got knocked out well before the World Cup even started by…Panama. And so you are stuck in the question of who’s next? Thankfully FiveThirtyEight, in addition to their fantastic live probabilities that we looked at the other day, put together a little quiz to help you find your new team.

You answer seven questions and you are told your new allegiance. Questions like this:

How would you answer?
How would you answer?

Naturally I took the quiz and discovered that in addition to England, I am cheering for…

Goal? Make that skål!
Goal? Make that skål!

Yep. Fantastic since I was just there in December and happened to love Stockholm. But what I love about this piece is how it uses data to create the newfound bond I have with Sweden. Often times you take a quiz and are given an answer without any sense of why the answer was correct. Here, FiveThirtyEight plots the seven different variables used to create your newfound personality and then shows you how you scored.

Right in the middle there
Right in the middle there

It’s Friday, it’s the World Cup. Have a great weekend. And in addition to England on Sunday, I’ll now be cheering for Sweden against Germany on Saturday.

Credit for the piece goes to Michael Caley, Rachael Dottle, Geoff Foster, Gus Wezerek, Daniel Levitt, Emily Scherer, and Jorge Lawerta.

Forecasting the American Midterm Elections

We are inching ever closer to the US midterm elections in November. In less than a week the largest state, California, will go to the polls to elect their candidates for their districts. So late last week whilst your author was on holiday, the Economist released its forecast model for the results. They will update it everyday so who knows what wild swings we might see between now and the election.

I will strike out against the common knowledge that this is a wave election year and Democrats will sweep swaths through Republican districts in an enormous electoral victory. Because while Democrats will likely win more overall votes across the country, the country’s congressional districts are structurally designed to favour Republicans as a result of gerrymandering after the 2010 Census redistricting. The Economist’s modelling handles this fairly well, I think, as it prescribes only a modest majority and gives that likelihood as only at 2-in-3. (This is as of 30 May.)

But how is it designed?

The big splashy piece is an interactive map of districts.

The overall state of the US in the 30 May run of the model
The overall state of the US in the 30 May run of the model

It does a good job of connecting individual districts to the dots below the map showing the distribution of said seats into safe, solid, likely, leaning, and tossup states. However, the interactivity is limited in an odd way. The dropdown in the upper-right allows the user to select any district they want and then the district is highlighted on the map as well as the distribution plot below. Similarly, the user can select one of the dots below the map to isolate a particular district and it will display upon the map. But the map itself does not function as a navigation element.

Selecting the newly drawn Pennsylvania 6th
Selecting the newly drawn Pennsylvania 6th

I am unsure why that selection function does not extend to the map because clearly the dropdown and the distribution plot are both affecting the objects on the map. Redeeming the map, however, are the district lines. Instead of simply plopping dots onto a US state-level map, the states are instead subdivided into their respective congressional districts.

But if we are going so far as to display individual districts, I wonder if a cartogram would have been a better fit. Of course it is perfectly plausible that one was indeed tried, but it did not work. The cartogram would also have the disadvantage of, in this case, not exhibiting geographically fidelity and thus being unrecognisable and therefore being unhelpful to users.

Now the piece also makes good use of factettes and right-left divisions of information panels to show the quick hit numbers, i.e. how many seats each party is forecast to win in total. But the map, for our purposes, is the big centrepiece.

Overall, this is solid and you better bet that I will be referencing it again and again as we move closer to the midterms.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.