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.

Primarily California

Today is primary day and everyone will be looking to the California results. Although probably not quite me, because Eastern vs. Pacific time means even I will likely be asleep tonight. But before we get to tonight, we have a nice primer from last Friday’s New York Times. It examines the California House of Representatives races that we should be following.

53 districts are a lot to follow in one night…
53 districts are a lot to follow in one night…

Like most election-related pieces, it starts with a map. But it uses some scrolling and progressive data disclosure. The map above, after a bit of scrolling, finally reveals the districts worth following and their 2016 vote margins.

Out of all 53, these are the districts the Times says to watch
Out of all 53, these are the districts the Times says to watch

From there the article moves onto a bit of an exploration of those few districts. You should read the full article—it’s a short read—for the full context on the California votes today. But it does make some nice of bar and line charts to plot the differences in presidential race vs. congressional race margins and the slow Democratic shift.

Credit for the piece goes to Jasmine C. Lee and Karen Yourish.

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.

Pennsylvania Primary Night

Surprise, surprise. This morning we just take a quick little peak at some of the data visualisation from the Pennsylvania primary races yesterday. Nothing is terribly revolutionary, just well done from the Washington Post, Politico, and the New York Times.

But let’s start with my district, which was super exciting.

The only thing to write home about is how the Republican incumbent dropped out at the last moment and was replaced by this guy…
The only thing to write home about is how the Republican incumbent dropped out at the last moment and was replaced by this guy…

Moving on.

Each of the three I chose to highlight did a good job. The Post was very straightforward and presented each office with a toggle to separate the two parties. Usually, however, this was not terribly interesting because races like the Pennsylvania governor had one incumbent running unopposed.

Mango is represented by what colour?
Mango is represented by what colour?

But Politico was able to hand it differently and simply presented the Democratic race above the Republican and simply noted that the sitting governor ran unopposed. This differs from the Post, where it was not immediately clear that Tom Wolf, the governor, was running unopposed and had already won.

Clean and simple design. No non-sense here.
Clean and simple design. No non-sense here.

The Times handled it similarly and simultaneously displayed both parties, but kept Wolf’s race simple. The neat feature, however, was the display of select counties beneath the choropleth. This could be super helpful in the midterms in several months when key races will hinge upon particular counties.

The Republican primary for the PA governorship has been ugly
The Republican primary for the PA governorship has been ugly

But where the Times really shines is the race for Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. Fun fact, in Pennsylvania the governor and lieutenant governor do not run as a ticket and are voted for separately. This year’s Democratic incumbent, Mike Stack, does not get on with the governor and had a few little scandals to his name, prompting several Democrats to run against him. And the Times’ piece shows the two parties result, side-by-side.

Pennsylvania's oddest race this time 'round
Pennsylvania’s oddest race this time ’round

Credit for the Post’s piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.

Credit for Politico’s piece goes to Politico’s graphics department.

Credit for the Times’ piece goes to Sarah Almukhtar, Wilson Andrews, Matthew Bloch, Jeremy Bowers, Tom Giratikanon, Jasmine C. Lee and Paul Murray, and Maggie Astor.

Tracking the Women Running for Office

Yesterday we talked about a static graphic from the New York Times that ran front and centre on the, well, front page. Whilst writing the piece, I recalled a piece from Politico that I have been lazily following, as in I bookmarked to write about another time. And suddenly today seemed as good as any other day.

After all, this piece also is about women running for Congress, and a bit more widely it also looks at gubernatorial races. It tracks the women candidates through the primary season. The reason I was holding off? Well, we are at the beginning of the primary season and as the Sankey diagram in the screenshot below shows, we just don’t have much data yet. And charts with “Wait, we promise we’ll have more” lack the visual impact and interest of those that are full of hundreds of data points.

Still too many unknowns. But at least these are known unknowns…
Still too many unknowns. But at least these are known unknowns…

But we should still look at it—and who knows, maybe late this summer or early autumn I will circle back to it. After all, today is primary day in Pennsylvania. (Note: Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, which means you have to belong to the political party to vote for its candidates.) So this tool is super useful looking ahead, because it also shows the slate of women running for positions.

Aside from just the number of women running, today's primaries will be fascinating because of the whole redistricting thing
Aside from just the number of women running, today’s primaries will be fascinating because of the whole redistricting thing

I really like the piece, but as I said above, I will want to circle back to it later this year to see it with more data collected.

Credit for the piece goes to Sarah Frostenson.

Women Running for Congress

If you haven’t heard by now, this year is a US Congressional midterm election year meaning that eligible American citizens will be voting for their local representative and 1/3 of the states will be selecting their senator. But perhaps because yesterday was Mother’s Day in the States, the New York Times ran a front-page, above-the-fold piece on the number of women running for Congress this year, either as incumbents or challengers.

It certainly got my attention…
It certainly got my attention…

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that I am excited basically anytime smart graphics work their way onto the front page. The map itself shows the rough location of where women candidates are running for office and a quick comparison shows there are more blue, Democratic, women than red, Republican. Nothing too special here.

Where the women are running
Where the women are running

But as I began to read the article, I became more interested in my questions that then fortunately became some of the article’s points about where these women were running in terms of competitive seats. Unfortunately the map does not contain any information about that.

Until I got to the inside page later on.

Naturally what I was interested in was on the inside page
Naturally what I was interested in was on the inside page

This graphic is the more impressive of the article’s two. As a brief inside, these types of graphics always intrigue me. What kind? The kind that do not fit neatly into a box. As part of my job, I serve as creative director, graphics designer, page designer, and production designer for the Philly Fed’s premier quarterly economics journal. Sometimes the job is having a box and filling said box with a graphic, the map on the front page is a great example. But with this graphic, that would leave too much white space at the top and so how do you design around or rather with that?

To the graphic specifically though, we get a nice little treat.

Let's come back in six months and see how this pans out
Let’s come back in six months and see how this pans out

Nothing is complicated in this one. We have three conditions, running in an open seat or running against an incumbent, an incumbent, or running for an open seat. Since this piece focuses on the difficult path to get these women into office, especially because of the challenges of facing an incumbent, that group is the highlighted one. (A less focused piece that shows all three conditions would be neat.)

Then we basically have a graphic where we count the number of icons. In this case, we could have even used little boxes as the icons are not necessary. Personally, I would have opted for something like boxes, but these icons are not too distracting. The icons are then grouped by the competitiveness of the district, the part that interested me, and at this point note that the designer makes certain each grouping is an equal ten units wide.

Visually it becomes quite clear that women should certainly expect greater representation in Congress come 2019, but with so many women running as Democrats against safe Republican incumbents, it will be difficult to see many of these women in Congress. Of course with all this talk of a wave election, if that is true, you would expect some of the seats on the right to move to the left, i.e. safe Republican become lean Republican become tossups.

Overall, this was a nice treat for a Sunday read of the paper.

Credit for the piece goes to Kate Zernike and Denise Lu.