Gerrymandering Pennsylvania

Here in Pennsylvania this week, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the legality of congressional districts drawn by Republicans in 2010. The state is rather evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, e.g. Donald Trump won by less than one percentage point or less than 45,000 votes. But 13 of its 18 congressional districts are represented by Republicans, roughly 72%.

This graphic is from the New York Times Upshot and it opens a piece that explores gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. The graphic presents the map today as well as a nonpartisan map and an “extreme” gerrymander. The thing most noticeable to me was that even with the nonpartisan geography, the Democrats are still below what they might expect for a near 50-50 split. Why? One need only look at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where, using the Times’ language, the Democrats “waste” votes with enormous margins, leaving the suburban and rural parts of the state open for Republican gains.

Three different ways of drawing Pennsylvania's congressional districts
Three different ways of drawing Pennsylvania’s congressional districts

Credit for the piece goes to Quoctrung Bui and Nate Cohn.

The Shitholes

Today’s post is a very quick reaction to the news last night about President Trump calling Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries “shitholes” and trying to get rid of immigrants from those countries in favour of immigrants from places like Norway.

Norwegian contributions to American immigrants peaked well before the 21st century. At that time, Norway was poor and lesser developed. The data was hard to find, but on a GDP per capita level, Norway was one of the least developed countries in Western Europe. On a like dollar-for-dollar basis, El Salvador of 2008 is not too far from Norway 1850.

I wish I had more time to develop this graphic for this morning. Alas, it will have to do as is.

I'm just really hoping Africa isn't a country again…
I’m just really hoping Africa isn’t a country again…

Where It’ll Be Too Warm for the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are creeping ever closer and so this piece from the New York Times caught my eye. It examines the impact of climate change on host cities for the Winter Olympics. Startlingly, a handful of cities from the past almost century are no longer reliable enough, i.e. cold and snow-covered, to host winter games.

This screenshot is of a bar chart that looks at temperatures, because snow and ice obviously require freezing temperatures. The reliability is colour-coded and at first I was not a fan—it seemed unnecessary to me.

At first I did not care for the colours in the bars
At first I did not care for the colours in the bars

But then further down the piece, those same colours are used to reference reliability on a polar projection map.

But then this map changed my mind
But then this map changed my mind

That was a subtle, but well appreciated design choice. My initial aversion to the graphic and piece was changed by the end of it. That is always great when designers can pull that off.

Credit for the piece goes to Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich

The World Grows On

January is the month of forecasts and projections for the year to come. And the Economist is no different. Late last week it published a datagraphic showcasing the GDP growth forecasts of the Economist Intelligence Unit. I used to make this exact type of datagraphic a lot. And I mean a lot. But what I really enjoy is how successfully this piece integrates the map, the bar chart, and the tables to round out the story.

Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well
Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well

The easy thing to do is always the map, because people like maps. They can be big, and if the data set is robust, full of data and colour. But maps hide and obscure geographically small countries. And then you have to assume that people know all the countries in the world. Problem is, most people do not.

So the bar chart does a good job of showing each country as equals, a slim vertical bar. In such a small space, labelling every country is impossible, but the designers chose a select number of countries that might be of interest and called them out across the entire series.

Lastly, people always like to know who is #winning and who is a #loser. So the tables at the extreme ends of the chart showcast the top and last five.

I may have rearranged some of the elements, and dropped the heavy black rules between the bins on the legend, but overall I consider this piece a success.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Jones–Moore Election Results

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week or so, I have alternately been on holiday or sick while spending other time on my annual Christmas card. This will also be the last post for 2017 as I am on holiday until the new year. But before I go, I want to take a look at the election night graphics for the Alabama US Senate special election yesterday.

I am going to start with the New York Times, which was where I went first last night after returning from work. What was really nice was there graphic on their homepage. It provided a snapshot fo the results before I even got to the results page.

The homepage of the New York Times last night
The homepage of the New York Times last night

The results page then had the standard map and table, but also this little dashboard element.

I'm spinning my wheels…
I’m spinning my wheels…

We all know how I feel about dashboard things. To put it tersely: not a fan. But what I did enjoy about the experience was its progression. The bars below filled in as the night progressed, and the range in the vote-ometers narrowed. But that same sort of design could be applied to other graphics representing the narrowing of likely outcomes.

The second site I visited was the Washington Post. Like the Times, their homepage also featured an interactive graphic, another choropleth map.

A different page, a different map
A different page, a different map

There are two key differences between the maps. The Times map uses four bins for each party whereas the Post simplifies the page to two: leading and won. The second difference is the placement of the map. The Post’s map is a cropping of a larger national map versus the Times that uses a sole map of the state.

For a small homepage graphic, bits of both work rather well. The Times cuts away the unnecessary map controls and neighbouring states. But the space is small and maybe not the best for an eight-binned choropleth. In the smaller space, the Post’s simplified leading/won tells the story more effectively. But on a larger space that is dedicated to the results/story, the more granular results are far more insightful.

On a quick side note, the Post’s page included some context in addition to the standard results graphics. This map of the Black Belt and how it correlates to regions of Democratic votes in 2016 provides an additional bit of background as to how the votes played out.

Note, the Black Belt was named for the black soil, not the slaves.
Note, the Black Belt was named for the black soil, not the slaves.

Credit for the piece goes to the design teams of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Flying for Thanksgiving

This is a piece from a few years ago, but the New York Times cleverly brought it to the front of their Upshot page. And it seemed just so appropriate. Many of you are likely travelling today—I’m not, I’m headed to work—and many of you will be driving or taking the train. But some will be flying. But to and from where?

If only it captured other travel data
If only it captured other travel data

The map has some nice features that allow you to selectively few particular cities. Philadelphia has relatively few travellers by air, but that’s probably because places in the Northeast are more easily accessible by road or rail.

Chicago also has relatively few travellers, though more than Philadelphia. I would posit that is because most people are not flying to visit their relatives, but rather driving to places in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana.

No post tomorrow, because I intend on sleeping in. But you can expect something on Friday.

Credit for the piece goes to Josh Katz and Quoctrung Bui.

How to Choose the Match to Broadcast

I was reading the Sunday paper yesterday and whilst I normally skip the sports section, especially during baseball’s offseason, this time a brightly coloured map caught my attention. Of course then I had to read the article, but I am glad that I did.

On Sunday the New York Times ran a print piece—I mean I assume I can find it online (I did.)—about CBS chooses which American football matches to air in the country’s markets. It is a wee bit complicated. And if you can find it, you should read it. The process is fascinating.

But I want to quickly talk about the design of the thing. Remember how I said a map caught my attention. That was pretty important, because the map was not the largest part of the article. Instead that went to a nice big photo. But the information designer I am, well, my eyes went straight to the map below that.

The story dominated the section page
The story dominated the section page

There is nothing too special about the map in particular. It is a choropleth where media markets are coloured by the game being aired yesterday. (The piece explains the blackout rules that changed a few years ago from what I remember growing up.)

But then on the inside, the article takes up another page, this time fully. It runs maps down the side to highlight the matches and scenarios the author discusses, reusing the same map as above, but because this is an interior page, in black and white. It probably looks even better online as they likely kept the colour. (They did. But the maps are smaller.)

To have that much space in which to design an article…
To have that much space in which to design an article…

Overall, I really enjoyed the piece and the maps and visuals not only drew me into the piece, but helped contextualise the story.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Draper.

The Demilitarised Zone

Over the weekend, the American and North Korean leaders got into an argument with the North Korean leader calling President Trump old and the American leader calling Kim Jong Un short and fat. High class diplomacy.

So what holds the North Korean army, by numbers likely not quality one of the largest armed forces in the world, back from sweeping down the Korean coastlines and overrunning Seoul? Well, that would be the role of the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ. And thankfully yesterday, whilst your humble author was out sick, the Washington Post published a piece looking at the DMZ.

The title of the piece
The title of the piece

The piece uses a giant, illustrated in the background to provide context to the words and imagery sitting in the foreground. (That is how I justified covering it in the blog: map.) Overall the experience was smooth and informative about the sheer amount of destructive power waiting just miles north of Seoul.

Credit for the piece goes to Armand Emamdjomeh, Laris Karklis, and Tim Meko.

The Importance of Cartography

Today I wanted to share with you a piece from the BBC that explores the importance of cartography, or mapmaking, in relief efforts particularly in Malawi, a country located in southeastern Africa.

My favourite still, perhaps, was an image of a hand-drawn map
My favourite still, perhaps, was an image of a hand-drawn map

This is a still from a short video—it clocks in at just a tad under three minutes—that you can watch to see how volunteers are identifying and mapping villages that do not appear on today’s maps. The importance, as they explain, is that if the village does not appear, it is as if the village does not exist. Consequently it can be quite difficult for aid to reach these villages during disasters like the 2015 floods.

Credit for the piece goes to Ruth Evans.

Voting in Virginia

Today is Election Day here in the States, but neither for the presidency nor for Congress. 2017 is an off-year, but it does have a few interesting races worth following. One is the New Jersey gubernatorial election across the river here from Philadelphia. Further down the Northeast Corridor we have the gubernatorial election in Virginia. And then I am going to be following the special election for a Seattle suburb’s state-level district. Why? Because it all gets to setting the table for 2022.

These three elections are all important for one reason, they relate to the idea of solid political control of a state government. The analogy is what we have in Washington, DC where the Republicans control the executive branch and both chambers of the legislative branch. In New Jersey, Democrats control the state legislature while (in?)famous Chris Christie, a Republican, is governor. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is governor whilst the General Assembly is solidly Republican—we will get to that in a minute, trust me—and finally in Washington, the governorship is Democratic, the lower chamber of the state legislature is Democratic, but the state senate is Republican by one seat. And one of those very seats is up for a special election today.

So why am I making the big deal about this? Because solid political control of a state allows for biased redistricting, or gerrymandering, in 2020, when the US Census will reapportion seats to states, and thereby electoral college votes. If the Republicans win in Virginia, which is possible in what the polls basically have as a toss-up, they can redistrict Virginia to make it even harder for Democrats to win. And if the Democrats win in New Jersey and Washington, as they are expected to, they will be able to redistrict the state in their favour. Conversely, if the Democrats win in Virginia, and Republicans in New Jersey and Washington, they can thwart overly gerrymandered districts.

Which gets us to Virginia and today’s post. (It took awhile, apologies.) But as the state of Virginia changes, look at the dynamic growth in northern part of the state over the past decade, how will the changing demographics and socio-economics impact the state’s vote? Well, we have a great piece from the Washington Post to examine that.

The growth has been in northern Virginia thus far
The growth has been in northern Virginia thus far

It does a really nice job of showing where the votes are, in northern Virginia, and where the jobs are, again in northern Virginia. But how southern Virginia and Republicans in the north, might have just enough votes to defeat Democratic candidate Ralph Northam. The last polls I saw showed a very narrow lead for him over Republican Ed Gillespie. Interestingly, Gillespie is the very same Gillespie who architected the Republican’s massive victory in 2010 that obviously shifted the House of Representatives to the Republicans, but more importantly, shifted state legislatures and governorships to the Republicans.

That shift allowed for the Republicans to essentially stack the deck for the coming decade. And so even though in 2016, Democrats won more votes for the House of Representatives, they have far fewer seats. Even if there is a groundswell of new support for them in 2018, that same gerrymandering will make it near impossible for the Democrats to win the House. And so these votes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington state are fun to follow tonight—I will be—but they could also lay the groundwork for the elections in 2022 and 2024.

Basically, I just used today’s post to talk about why these three elections are important not for today, but for the votes in a few years’ time. But you really should check out the graphic. It makes nice use of layout, especially with the job bar chart organised by Virginia region. Overall, a solid and terrific piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron and Ted Mellnik.