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.

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.

Voting

On the Friday after the president retweeted support for British extremists, then when told it was inappropriate, told off the British prime minister. On Twitter.

I would only add, vote next time, vote every time
I would only add, vote next time, vote every time

But at least we made it to week’s end. So Happy Friday, all.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

So Much for Jamaica, (Ger)Man

Last week we saw a lot of news break, and then here at Coffeespoons we had the usual American Thanksgiving holiday with which to contend. So now that things are creeping back to a new normal, let us dive back into some of the things we missed.

How about those German coalition government talks?

Remember two months ago when we looked at Die Welt and the German election results? Well it turns out that the FDP, the liberal (in the more classical sense that makes them more centre-right) Free Democrats, have walked away from coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party (it’s actually two separate parties that have an alliance) and the Green Party. That leaves Merkel with the the Social Democrats as the only other option to form a majority government. (She could attempt to hold a minority government, but from her own statements that appears unlikely.) But the Social Democrats do not appear too keen on joining up in a grand coalition.

So where does Germany stand? Well thankfully the Economist put together a short article with a few graphics to help show just how tricky putting together a new coalition government will be.

Crossing the finish line…
Crossing the finish line…

In terms of design, there is not too much to stay here. The colours are determined by the colours used by the political parties. And the 50% vote threshold is a common, but very useful and workable, convention. The only thing I may have done to emphasise the lack of change in the polling data is a line chart to show the percentage point movement or lack thereof.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Repealing the Individual Mandate

While I am still looking for a graphic about Zimbabwe, I also want to cover the tax reform plans as they are being discussed visually. But then the Senate went and threw a spanner into the works by incorporating a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate. “What is that?”, some of you may ask, especially those not from the States. It is the requirement that everyone have health insurance and it comes with tax penalties if you fail to have coverage.

Thankfully the New York Times put together a piece explaining how the mandate is needed to keep premiums low. Consequently, removing it will actually only increase the premiums paid by the poor, sick, and elderly. The piece does this through illustrations accompanying the text.

Exiting the pool
Exiting the pool

Overall the piece does a nice job of pairing graphics and text to explain just why the mandate, so reviled by some quarters, is so essential to the overall system.

Credit for the piece goes to Haeyoun Park.

Trumping (Most) All on Twitter

Initially I wanted today’s piece to be coverage of the apparent coup d’état in Zimbabwe over night. But while I have found some coverage of the event, I have not yet seen a single graphic trying to explain what happened. Maybe if I have time…

In the meantime, we have the Economist with a short little piece about Trump on Twitter and how he has bested his rivals. Well, most of them at least.

Trumping one's rivals
Trumping one’s rivals

The piece uses a nice set of small multiples to compare Trump’s number of followers to those of his rivals. The multiples come into play as the rivals are segmented into three groups: political, sport, and media. (Or is that fake media?)

Small multiples of course prevent spaghetti charts from developing, and you can easily see how that would have occurred had this been one chart. But I like the use of the reddish-orange line for Trump being the consistent line throughout each. And because the colour was consistent, the labelling could disappear after identifying the data series in the first chart.

And worth calling out too the attention to detail. Look at the line breaks in the chart for the labelling of Fox News and NBA. It prevents the line from interfering with and hindering the legibility of the type. Again, a very small point, but one that goes a long way towards helping the reader.

I think the only thing that could have made this a really standout, stellar piece of work is the inclusion of another referenced data series: the followers of Barack Obama. At 97 million followers, Obama dwarfs Trump’s 42.2 million. Would it not be fantastic to see that line soaring upwards, but cutting away towards the side of the graphic would be the text block of the article continuing on? Probably easier for them to do in their print edition.

Regardless, this is another example of doing solid work at small scale. (Because small multiples, get it?)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Why So Many Mass Shootings?

Well, the data speaks for itself. I wanted to use this screenshot, however, to show you the story because I think it does a fantastic job. Without having to read the article, the image encapsulates what is to come in the article.

Just the visual impact of the outlier
Just the visual impact of the outlier

That said, there are a few other scatter plots worth checking out if the topic is of interest. And the explanation of the data makes all the more sense.

But I really loved the impact of that homepage.

Credit for the piece goes to Max Fisher and Josh Keller.

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.

Flaking Out of the Senate

This has been a busy week. I am working on a small piece on the Red Sox managers in the free agency period—I thought it would be ready yesterday, but not so much—but news continues to happen outside of the baseball world. Some of the biggest, at least in the US, would have to be the speech by Senator Flake of Arizona who announced he would not seek re-election in 2018.

So cue the politically-themed graphics. Today’s piece comes from the Washington Post. The graphic itself is not terribly complex as it is a scatter plot comparing the liberal/conservativeness of senators with how their respective state voted in 2016.

Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic
Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic

But what the piece does really well is weave a narrative through the chart. Scrolling down the page locks the graphic in place while the text changes to provide new context. And then different dots are highlighted or called out.

It proves that not all the best graphics need to be terribly complex.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher.

The Ratio

And I’m not talking about walking into a bar late at night. Instead, I am talking about the ratio of likes to retweets to replies, which, for those of you unfamiliar with the service, refers to engagement with a person’s tweets on Twitter.

The Ratio does not come from FiveThirtyEight—read the article for the full background on the concept, it is well worth the read—but they applied it to President Trump, whom we all know has a penchant for tweeting. The basic premise of the ratio is that you want more retweets and likes than replies. Think of it like customer reviews. Rarely do people bother to put the effort in to complement good service, but they will often write scathing reviews if something does not fit their expectations. Same in Twitter. If I do not care for what you say, I will let you know. But if I do, it is easy for me to like it, or even retweet it.

Anyway, the point is they took this and applied it to the tweets of Donald Trump and received this chart.

The interactivity makes this chart worth checking out
The interactivity makes this chart worth checking out

What I truly enjoy is the interactivity. Each dot reflects a tweet, and you can reveal that tweet by hovering over it. (I would be curious to know if the dots move. That is, do they, say, refresh daily with new tabulations on the updated numbers of likes, retweets, and replies?)

But the post goes on using the same chart form, in both other interactive displays and as static, small multiple pieces, to explore the political realm of previous tweeting presidents and current senators.

A solid article with some really nice graphics to boot.

Credit for the piece goes to Oliver Roeder, Dhrumil Mehta, and Gus Wezerek.