Well this is it. Well at least for you American readers of this blog. It’s Election Day. If you had told me that this is what it would come to almost a year and a half ago, I would have laughed. But it did. And now it comes down to all of us to vote, unless unlike me you live in a state with early voting. And then when the polls begin to close, nerds of the political and data persuasion will be following the results in state, counties, and congressional districts.
And we will be following it all because not all the people on the ballots are named Trump or Clinton. I lived eight years in Illinois. There, you guys are, among others, choosing between Kirk and Duckworth. Here in Pennsylvania, it’s between Toomey and McGinty. Here there is also a referendum on judicial retirement ages. Other districts, counties, and states will have other things upon which to vote.
And while local politics and governance impact us the most, let’s face it. We’re all here for the title fight. The heavyweight class: Trump v. Clinton. So today being Election Day, how is it going to turn out? Well I have my thoughts, check them out here, but who really knows? But who also doesn’t want to try and guess? Enter the New York Times. They have a great interactive decision tree that allows you to experiment. But even without selecting a thing you can see how much more likely a Clinton victory is. She simply has more paths to 270 electoral college votes.
But that all said, a Clinton victory is far from guaranteed. If the narrow polls are wrong in any one of her “firewall” states, Trump can win. And while it may seem forever ago, remember Bernie Sanders in Michigan? The polls had him down by at least five points to Clinton throughout the race. He won the state by two points. Now a seven point swing is a bit extreme, and I am not suggesting any state will be in that much error. But three to four points is very plausible. And Clinton’s leads? In many of these states, they are within that uncomfortable margin. So here is a plausible scenario that makes tiny New Hampshire and its four votes the deciding state.
So remember, if you haven’t already, go vote. And if I learned anything from Chicago, it’s vote once, vote often.
Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.
Well, everyone, today you get two posts. The first and earlier (and planned) post is about polling in Pennsylvania. Relevant to those of you following the US election. But today’s post is about what trains are running in the city of Philadelphia.
If you haven’t heard, the city’s mass transit agency, SEPTA, and its primary union for workers within the city cannot come to an agreement on a contract. So…strike. And for those of you reading this from outside the Philly area, rest assured it’s just chaos right now. To put it into a wee bit of perspective, we have this graphic—actually an interactive map—of train routes in the city. And by train, Philadelphia has your standard suburban commuter heavy rail and subway lines and light rail lines, but we also make use of a number of trolley lines.
What the map does not show are the city’s various bus routes, all of which that run within the city are suspended. There are bus routes and rail lines outside the city, most notably the commuter rail or the blue lines in the map, operated by a different union that is not on strike.
Credit for the piece goes to the Philly.com graphics department.
Well the election is next Tuesday, and last Friday and this past weekend was…interesting. So one(ish) week to go, and we are going to turn to a few posts that use data visualisation and graphics to explore topics related to the election.
Today we start with the latest tracking polls, released on Friday. The piece comes from the Washington Post and highlights the closing gap between Clinton and Trump with a sudden spike in Republican candidate support. But what I really like about the piece is the plot below. It displays the 0 axis vertically and plots time with the most recent date at the top. And then support for the various demographics can be filtered by selectable controls above the overall plot.
Of course the really interesting bit is going to be how much this changes in the next seven days. And then what that means for the results when we all wake up on Wednesday morning.
Credit for the piece goes to Chris Alcantara, Kevin Uhrmacher, and Emily Guskin.
How much does a gallon of milk cost? That, of course, is one of the classic election questions asked of candidates to see how in touch they are with the common man. But the same can be understood by enquiring whether or not they know how much a gallon of petrol or gasoline costs. And Bloomberg asked that very same question of the United States relative to the rest of the world. And as it turns out, here in the States, fueling our automobiles is, broadly speaking, not as painful as it would be in other countries.
The piece includes the below dot plot, where different countries are plotted on the three different metrics and the dots are colour coded by the country’s geographic region. But as is usually the case with data on geographies, the question of geographic pattern arises. And so the same three metrics presented in the dot plot are also presented on a geographic map. Those three maps are toggled on/off by buttons above the map.
A really nice touch that makes the piece applicable to an audience broader than the United States is the three controls in the upper-right of the dot plot. They allow you to control the date, but more importantly the currency and the volume. For most of the world, petrol is priced in litres in local currencies. And the piece allows the user to switch between gallons and litres and from US dollars to the koruna of the Czech Republic.
Credit for the piece goes to Tom Randall, Alex McIntyre, and Jeremy Scott Diamond.
Yes, ISIS does receive a lot of attention in the media and during the presidential debates. But you might be surprised to learn that actually the organisation has lost a significant amount of territory lately. This BBC article details the territorial changes through a nice interactive map slider.
You could create a single map showing the losses/gains instead of using this light-duty interactive piece. And to the BBC’s credit they did. However, between the image quality and territorial changes, I think in this instance the interactive piece does add clarity to the story.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
Yesterday scientists announced the discovery of a likely rocky planet within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, Sol’s (the Sun’s) nearest star. The New York Times covered the discovery with a piece full of nice explanatory graphics.
Now if we can only get onto the whole matter–anti-matter warp engine thing we could go explore the place.
Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.
Another day in Philadelphia, another post of Philly data visualisation work. Here we have a piece from 2015 that was updated earlier this spring. It looks at overdose rates in the Philadelphia region, including parts of New Jersey. It does include a map, because most pieces like this typically do. However, what I really find interesting about the piece is its use of small multiple line charts below to take a look at particular counties.
The piece overall is not bad, and the map is actually fairly useful in showing the differences between Jersey and Philadelphia (although why New Jersey is outlined in black and the Philly suburban counties are not I do not know). But I want to take a look at the small multiples of the piece, screenshot below.
You can see an interesting decision in the choice of stacked line charts. Typically one would compare death rates like for like and see whether a county is above, below, or comparable to the state, local, or national averages. But combining the three gives a misleading look at the specific counties and forces the user to mentally disentangle the graphic. I probably would have separated them into three separate lines. And even then, because of the focus on the counties, I would have shifted the colour focus to the specific counties and away from the black lines for the national average. The black is drawing more attention to the US line than to the county line.
I am on holiday for a few days and am visiting Philadelphia. So what better time to cover some Philadelphia-made content? This interactive piece came out last year from Philly.com alongside coverage of the Philadelphia mayoral contest.
I want to call out the colour palette for the choropleth in particular. We can see a blue to red system with a stop at yellow in the middle—a divergent palette. With this kind of a setup, I would expect that yellow or the light blue to be zero or otherwise straddle the point of divergence. Instead we have dark blue meaning 0 and dark red meaning 401+. The palette confuses me. It could be that the point of divergence—something around the 200 number—could be significant. It could be the city average, an agreed upon number for good neighbourhood relations, or something. But there is no indication of that in the graphic.
Secondly the colour choice itself. I often hesitate using red (and green) because of the often-made Western connotation with bad. Blue here, it works very well with the concept of the thin blue line, NYPD blue, blue-shirted police. If we assume that there is a rationale for the divergent palette, I would probably place the blue on the high-end of the spectrum and a different colour at the negative end.
Lastly, from the perspective of the layout, Philly has a weird shape. And so that means between the bar chart to the right and the city map on the left the piece contains an awkward negative space. The map could be adjusted to make better use of the space by pointing north somewhere other than up.—why is north up?—to align the Delaware River with the bars. Or, the bars could abut West Philly.
The interactions, however, are very smooth. And a nice subtle touch that orients the reader without distracting them is the inclusion of the main roads, e.g. Broad Street. The white lines are sufficiently thin to not distract from the overall piece.
Last one of these critiques—I promise. Earlier this week I looked at the New York Times’ coverage and the BBC’s coverage. Well, today I want to examine the Guardian’s coverage of the Brexit vote results. This piece differs the most from the preceding work and it starts right from the top, literally.
I am not the biggest fan of the illustrations of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, but in a sense, neither is a throw-in. For the last few months, the Guardian has been using these and similar illustrations of US presidential candidates to tie results into different political camps. Thus in that sense, they do fit the Guardian’s current brand. Interestingly, neither remains (pun intended) in the picture for the future of the Tories.
Data-wise, however, the decision to use the bar chart at the outset of the piece reflects an understanding of the importance of the top-line number. Districts count, but only at that granular level I discussed. What truly matter, though, is the aggregate. And this is a no-doubt-about-it means of conveying that information. (I will admit the David Cameron frowny face does help a wee bit.)
And if the use of big numbers and illustrations at the top of the piece broke with the choropleth map we saw with the New York Times and the BBC, well, we have another clear break.
Instead of using a geographic map, the Guardian employs a cartogram with hexagons. I have covered similar uses a severaltimesbeforetoday. The hexagon shape allows better retention of familiar geographic shapes, while still providing a means of solving the small district problem, especially in places like central London.
From another design perspective, that of colour, we see an improvement over the blue–yellow spectrum used by the BBC. You may recall from yesterday:
Having multiple tints and shades of yellow makes the map difficult to read.
Here, the Guardian instead opted for a simplified, and easier to read, two-step split. Bright blue and yellow with each have a call it half-tint. With only two blues and, more importantly, two yellows to distinguish, the map becomes easier to read. The trade-off, the darker of the colours represents anything above a 15% majority.
Clicking on the map then provides with a small summary of the district results.
Here we see nothing too dissimilar from how the BBC treated the interaction with their map. A small, subtle design element I enjoy, however, is the inclusion of the national average. The 50% marker indicates clearly which side won, but the tick below the bar gives the reader context of where the district fell into relation to the remainder of the country.
And that leads us into the next set of comparisons.
The Guardian took local district results and compared them against several different demographic and socio-economic indicators. This allowed them to present various correlations of the vote. It turns out that higher education correlated best with the results of the UK vote. From a design perspective, the linked circles provides some stability. However, I would have preferred the ability to click a geography and have it remain sticky and bring up the specific figures. Additionally, some sort of text search for geographies would be helpful.
And then the Guardian’s piece closes as strongly as it opened.
The piece examines three riverside areas to provide specific analysis to the vote. The screenshot above focuses on the Tyne, which runs alongside the aptly named Newcastle upon Tyne. The Guardian uses the previous general election results for the area to contrast with the referendum results. It does similar analysis for the Thames (London) and the Mersey (Liverpool).
Similar to the New York Times piece, the Guardian’s piece responds well to viewing the content on a small screen. The changes are less complex and they deal mostly with the arrangement of the various components instead of the layout of contextual data. But the Guardian clearly considered how the piece would work on a mobile phone up through a widescreen monitor.
Overall the piece is quite strong and does an excellent job of showcasing the results data and providing insightful analysis that complements the vote totals.
Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.
So now it is two weeks since the Brexit vote. Yesterday, I looked at the results designs from the New York Times. Today I want to take a look at those of the BBC. Not surprisingly the two share in the use of choropleth maps; the choice makes a lot of sense. People vote within districts and those form the most granular unit of data available. But, whereas the New York Times led and really focused on one giant map, the BBC opted to use multiple, smaller maps. (They did choose a different page for their live results, but we are comparing post-result coverage.) For example, their piece leads in with a map of Leave’s results share.
There are a few key differences between this and the New York Times. First and foremost, this map is interactive. Mousing over various districts provides you the name, and by clicking you move into a zoomed-in view of the district. It displays the district name, the vote totals and share for the two camps, and then voter turnout. From a design standpoint, the problem with the zooming in is that the scales of the outlining stroke does not change.
A thin stroke at the national, zoomed-out view, translates to a thick, clunky, and awkward-looking outline at the local, zoomed-in view. And as the above screenshot highlights, many of the urban districts are small in comparison to the more rural districts. Unfortunately the map does not offer the functionality of zooming-in prior to selecting a district. So many of the districts in the more urban areas like London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Belfast are difficult to see and select. Thankfully, below the map the BBC offers a function to type in your district, post code, or Northern Irish constituency to help you find smaller districts.
Another design criticism I have with the piece is the colour palette. Broadly speaking, the piece uses blue and yellow. The two colours make sense in a few ways. Both are present on the European Union flag, with yellow stars on a blue field. (Importantly the twelve stars do not represent EU members like the US flag’s fifty stars represent the states.) Another, far looser interpretation could be the blue of the Conservatives and the yellow closer to the gold of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, the former broadly anti-EU and the latter pro-EU. Regardless of the rationale, the choice of yellow to display multiple levels of data is less than stellar (pun intended), as this Remain share map highlights.
Having multiple tints and shades of yellow makes the map difficult to read. The lowest value yellow is brighter than the next higher level, and so stands out more vividly on the map than those districts that had a higher share of Remain votes. Using yellow against blue does work, especially in the bar charts throughout the piece and seen in the aforementioned Islington screenshot. But, as a colour for wider, more intense use, yellow was not the wisest decision.
The BBC also included several other choropleth maps exploring the vote breakdown. In this instance of voter turnout, we have the same choropleth map, but a green colour indicating the total vote turnout.
The colour and its choice makes broad sense; green is what one gets when they mix yellow and blue, when you combine Remain and Leave. However, the map functionality of clicking to reveal results still shows the overall results.
At this point, we have moved on from the vote results themselves to the breakdown of the vote. I would have redesigned the mouse-click to display a results view that highlighted turnout over the results themselves. Certainly keeping the results is important, but the focus of this map is not the vote, but the turnout. The data display should be designed to keep that consistent.
One part of the piece where I quibble with the designer selection of chart type follows on from turnout: a comparison of turnout to the youth population.
Asking people to compare undistinguished districts on one map to those of another—note the white district lines have here disappeared—is difficult. My first thought: I would have instead opted for an interactive scatterplot. Comparing the turnout on one axis and youth on the other, the user would have an easier time identifying any correlations or clusters of data.
In contrast, the following map comparison would not work via a scatterplot. Here we compare June’s results to those of a vote in 1975. In the intervening years, the geography of the voting districts changed, and so a one-to-one comparison is impossible.
The broad scope, however, is clear. A resounding vote to stay part of the European Market or single market in 1975 evolved into a narrow but decisive vote to leave the European Union in 2016.
The piece then closes out with an interactive map of the total results and then, importantly, a long list of bar charts showing each district’s results. Unlike the map, however, the bar charts are a static graphic. And with a few hundred to view, it becomes difficult to isolate and compare two in particular. But the selection of the visualisation type makes a user’s comparison far more precise.
Overall, I would rate the piece a solid work, but with some clear areas of improvement. And who knows? Maybe there will be a second referendum. Or a new general election. And in that case, the BBC could improve upon the designs herein.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.