Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District: The Special Election

Today is Tuesday, 12 March. And that means a special election in the 18th congressional district of Pennsylvania, located in the far southwest of the state, near Pittsburgh.

Long story short, the district is uber Republican. But, the long-time Republican congressman, the avowedly pro-life type, was caught urging his mistress to abort their unborn child. Needless to say, that did not go over so well and so he resigned and now here we are with a veteran state legislator and veteran who calls himself “Trump before there was Trump” running for the Republicans and another veteran but also former federal prosecutor involved with fighting the opioid epidemic running for the Democrats.

Now about that uber Republican-ness. It is so much so that Democrats didn’t even run candidates in 2014 and 2016. And then in 2016, Trump won the district by 20 percentage points. But the polls show the Republican, Rick Saccone, with a very narrow lead within the margin of error. That in and of itself is tremendous news for Democrats in Pennsylvania. But what if Conor Lamb, the Democrat, were to actually somehow pull off a victory?

Well the Washington Post put together a great piece about how it really might not matter. Why? Because of that whole redistricting thing that I talked about. Neither Saccone nor Lamb live in the district that will replace today’s 18th.

The piece has several nice graphics showing just how much this area of the state will change and how that will impact these two candidates. But my favourite piece was actually this dot plot.

That's an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome
That’s an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome

It speaks more to today’s election than the future of the district. Everyone will undoubtedly be looking to see if Lamb can eke out a victory of Saccone this evening. But even if he loses narrowly, the Democrats can still take a glimmer of hope because of just how insurmountable the challenge was. It would require an enormous swing just to crack 50.1%.

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kevin Uhrmacher.

The Russian Threat

A few days ago a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent, e.g. VX, in Salisbury, England. Over a decade ago, another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, died in London after being poisoned with polonium, a highly radioactive substance produced inside nuclear reactors, placed inside his tea. Russia’s spies are still a threat in the 21st century, at least attempting to assassinate people they choose in Western cities and capitals.

All that made me think back to an issue of the Economist I received a few weeks ago. It had a special report on the future of warfare and this map on the threat posed by Russian conventional forces.

The Russian threat
The Russian threat

It does a good job of showing that in just a conventional sense, Russia remains a dangerous threat to NATO. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are incredibly vulnerable, all but surrounded by Russia and its allies/proxies.

But as this week’s news highlights, Russia remains a threat in the unconventional space as well. (As also pointed out by the red colour sitting in the formerly Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, seized by unmarked “little green men” in 2014.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

When No Change or Growth Is the Story

For many years I would often tell people that sometimes a visualisation can be “boring”, because the data itself is boring—a lack of growth in a market, no real mergers, or even steady and consistent but unspectacular growth. Those can all be stories, even if they likely result in very monotone choropleths or straight line charts or perfect steps of bar charts.

And then there are times when the lack of growth or change, when visualised, can be very powerful. I wanted to share this piece from the New York Times with everyone because it does just that.

Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland
Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland

You really need to click through and see the scale and scope, because the designers behind this did a fantastic job of capturing that sense of lack of change in a very large and expansive piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times Editorial Board.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part V

Yesterday we looked at the new congressional district map here in Pennsylvania, drawn up by the state supreme court after the Republican legislature and Democratic governor could not come to agreement.

Also yesterday, FiveThirtyEight explored the redrawn map in more detail to see if, as I’ve read in a few places, the new map is a Democratic gerrymander. In short, no. The article does a great job explaining how, basically, it might seem like it because more Democrats are predicted to be elected based on various models. But, that is only because the map was so extremely gerrymandered in the past that any effort to increase competitiveness or fairness would make Republicans more likely to lose seats.

This one table in particular does a nice job showing just how in an average election cycle there are only four seats that you could consider reliably Democratic whereas there are six that are reliably Republican. And keep in mind that Pennsylvania actually exhibits the reverse split—there are more Democrats than Republicans in the state. So even with this new map, the state exhibits a slight Republican bias.

Still favouring the Republicans
Still favouring the Republicans

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part IV

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court published the new congressional district map of Pennsylvania, the latest chapter in this tale. Republicans in the state legislature have already said they will take this to the federal courts, but they tried that just a few weeks ago and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

So the Washington Post put together a map showing precinct-level data aggregated to the new borders and the result is a far more competitive map. Despite there being more Democrats in Pennsylvania, overall the map still remains leaning towards Republican, but there are more light blue and red, again meaning competitive, districts to be fought over.

Well now we have some sensible lines…
Well now we have some sensible lines…

I did hear on the radio this morning, however, that one implication will be in the new Pennsylvania 4th, which is comprised mainly of the Philadelphia suburban county of Montgomery. Right now, that area is so gerrymandered that there is not a candidate right now living with the new borders.

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post Wonkblog.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part III

Almost a month ago I wrote about how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was considering a case involving the state’s heavily gerrymandered US congressional districts, which some have called among the worst in the nation. About a week later the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the map is in fact so gerrymandered it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. It ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to create a new, non-gerrymandered map that would have to be approved by the Democratic governor. I did not write up that then Pennsylvanian Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court—no graphics for that story. That appeal was rejected by Justice Alito, but with only days to spare the state legislature then created this new map and sent in this new one on Friday.

The proposed congressional districts, black lines, overlaid atop electoral precincts, the pretty colours.
The proposed congressional districts, black lines, overlaid atop electoral precincts, the pretty colours.

The problem, according to the governor and outside analysts, is that the map is just as gerrymandered as the previous one. Consequently, yesterday the governor rejected the new map and so now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, working with outside experts in political redistricting, will create a new congressional map for Pennsylvania. Hopefully before May when the state has its first primaries.

But just how do we know that the new map, despite looking different, was just as gerrymandered. Well, the Washington Post plotted the election margins for districts in 2016 using precinct data versus their proposed 2018 map overlaid atop those same precincts. What did they get? Almost identical results. The districts are no longer Goofy Kicking Donald Duck-esque, but they exhibit the same Republican bias of the previous map.

Trying to do the same thing to get a different or the same result?
Trying to do the same thing to get a different or the same result?

For the purposes of design, I probably would have dropped the “PA-” labels, as they are redundant since the whole plot examines Pennsylvania congressional districts. I think that, perhaps with a marker, and maybe a line of no-change would go a bit further in more clearly showing how the ultimately rejected map was nearly identical to its previous incarnation.

Credit for the map borders goes to the Pennsylvania state legislature, the version here to the Washington Post Wonkblog. All Wonkblog for the scatterplot.

Continuing Resolutions

The Senate reached a compromise on a two-year budget that increases spending by nearly half a trillion dollars on both the military and domestic programmes. This comes after a series of continuing resolutions, which are temporary spending bills that allow the government to function when the fiscal year has begun, but a budget has not been set.

It should pass the Senate, but there are questions about whether House Republicans will pass the budget because of their concerns about adding to the deficit. If it does pass, it could mark a significant step forward in getting the fiscal house in order.

To see just how chaotic the use of continuing resolutions has been, thankfully we have a piece from FiveThirtyEight exploring that issue. Spoiler: we have used it a lot since the late 1990s.

My favourites are when they are used instead of a budget…
My favourites are when they are used instead of a budget…

Credit for the piece goes to Gus Wezerek.

Short and Long Term

One week ago today, President Trump touted soaring stock prices as an indicator of a roaring economy. In truth, stock market prices are not that. They are driven by fundamentals, such as GDP growth, wage increases, and inflation. Furthermore stock prices can be fickle and volatile. Whereas a recession does not begin overnight, the factors build over a period of time, a stock market correction can happen in a single day.

So one week hence, the stock market has seen fully one-third of its gains over the past year wiped out. That is over $1 trillion gone from market funds, 401ks, college saving funds, &c. But again, not to freak people out, these things can and do happen. But because they can and do happen, presidents do not often go touting the stock market as it can come back and bite them.

This morning’s paper therefore had a pleasant graphic to accompany a story about the recent declines. And it was on the front page.

The front page
The front page

Like with the choropleth story I covered a little over a week ago, the graphic in today’s paper was not revolutionary nor earth shattering. It was two line charts as one graphic. What was neat, however, was how it supported two different articles.

One graphic, two articles
One graphic, two articles

But when I looked closer I found what was really neat: context.

Notice the little arrow…
Notice the little arrow…

The chart does a great job of showing that context of adding nearly $8 trillion in value over the course of the administration. But then that sharp decline at the right-side of the chart is blown out into its own detail to show how all was steady until Friday’s economic news was released. I think perhaps the only drawback is how tiny and fragile that arrow feels. I wonder if something a little bolder would better draw the eye or connect the dots between the two charts. Maybe even moving the “… and the last week” line above the chart line would work.

Anyway, I was just curious to see how the charts were depicted on the web. And then lo and behold I was treated to two graphics on the home page. The other is for an article about flood risks to chemical plants, not part of this post. But the focus of our post on the stock market was the same as in print. But here is the homepage with two different graphics, always a treat for a designer like myself.

The New York Times homepage this morning
The New York Times homepage this morning

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

The Memo

So last week the House of Representatives published a highly controversial memo by Representative Devin Nunes. Why controversial? Because it is apparently missing dozens of pages of additional facts, data, and context. But what the memo does contain are connections between people and things. And this Friday piece from the Washington Post does a good job of trying to explain those connections.

It's just missing a lot of other details…
It’s just missing a lot of other details…

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron, Julie Vitkovskaya, Reuben Fischer-Baum, Ann Gerhart, and Kevin Uhrmacher.

Remapping the 2016 Election

Today’s post clearly fits within the storyline of mapping, redistricting, and gerrymandering over the last week or so, but the work is a bit older. (Side note, the previously highlighted Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District, well it is in the news for a different story, its congressman just announced he would not be standing for reelection because of a sexual harassment case.)

We have the work of xkcd presenting the 2016 election results, but by mapping out the votes (approximately) in terms of 250,000 voters. It does a good job of showing you just where the population of the United States is concentrated (and vice versa).

I am somewhere within that enormous cluster of stick people in the lower-upper-middle right of the map…
I am somewhere within that enormous cluster of stick people in the lower-upper-middle right of the map…

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.