One of the big news stories yesterday centred on the Trump administration’s budget outline that would expand US defence spending by 9%, or $54 billion. That is quite a lot of money. More worrying, however, was the draft’s directive that it be accompanied by equal spending cuts in neither security nor entitlement programmes like Social Security and Medicare. Nor, obviously, the trillions allocated for mandatory spending, e.g. debt repayment.
White House officials—worth noting of the Trump-despised anonymous type that I suppose that only matters if reporting unflattering news—declined to get into specifics, but pointed out foreign aid as an area likely to receive massive cuts.
Problem is, foreign aid is one of the smallest segments of the federal budget. How small? Well, let’s segue into today’s post—see how smooth that was—from the Washington Post. The article dates from October, but was just brought to my attention to one of my mates.
Beyond this graphic that leads the piece, the Post presents numerous cartograms and other graphics that detail spending patterns. Hint, there is a pattern. But those patterns could also make it difficult to slash said spending.
The reason foreign aid spending is important is that it ties nicely into that concept of soft power. No surprise that over 120 retired generals and admirals told Congress that spending on diplomacy and foreign aid is “critical to keeping America safe”.
But for now this remains a budget outline sent to federal agencies to review. The actual budget fight is yet to come. So I’m sure this won’t be the last time we look at this topic here on Coffeespoons.
Credit for the piece goes to Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio.
Last Friday China seized a US Navy submersible drone—like the drones the Air Force uses but for underwater purposes—in international waters off the coast of the Philippines. This graphic from the Washington Post shows how, while in international waters, the seizure occurred not far outside China’s Nine-dash Line, which they claim as territorial waters.
Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.
Well today we elect the president of the United States. Wait! you say, did we not just do that a few weeks ago?
Not really, no.
In the run up to the election, I and others saw the possibility that this election could result in a gap between the national popular vote and the electoral college vote. And people think that unfair. Consequently I decided to start working on a series of graphics to help explain the system. But before I could finish, the Washington Post published this piece that I think does a strong job. So, I am going to point you there instead.
The United States is not a democracy, but a federal, democratic republic. Though that may smack of wordsmithery, it is an important distinction. We are a democratic republic in that we elect people to represent us, we do not directly vote on matters of government. And then that federal bit. The United States was formed by sovereign states, i.e. the colonies and other independent republics like Texas and (sort of) California. Others were territories belong to sovereign states that we acquired through negotiation, e.g. the Louisiana territory and Florida. In short, the United States is not a unitary state ruled by an all-powerful central government. The central government only has the authority granted to it by the states and territories entering the union.
States are intended to be equal, but the democratic republic bit means the people need to have their say. So the federal House of Representatives gets a set number of seats divided proportionally by population (as determined by the US Census) while the Senate represents all states equally with senators. The House is elected by the people every two years and thus is more in tune with national public sentiment. The Senate serves as the more deliberative body tempering perhaps overly reactionary House legislation. It also serves to represent the interests of the state governments. Initially, you did not even vote for senators. Those were chosen by your state governments, often the state legislature. (I will save that topic for another day.)
The electoral college of 538 members comes from each state’s House delegation and its two senators. And because this is a federal, i.e. state-led, republic, each state determines how to divvy up their votes. Most states do winner-take-all. Two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate them based on who wins the House districts and then an additional two (from the number of senators) to the overall state winner.
That very complicated system was designed to ensure that states with smaller populations are not summarily outvoted and overruled by the largest of states. This initially helped the smaller states in the Northeast like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware, but also the slave states like Georgia. In 2016, this means that the states of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains receive overrepresentation at the expense of the larger states like California, Texas, New York, and even my Pennsylvania.
The graphics from the Washington Post do a great job of showing not just how states today are over- or under-represented, but how that has changed since 1960. That is an important date given the Voting Rights Act that attempted to break down systemic injustices against minorities, particular blacks, in elections.
Is the electoral college “fair”? If this was a unitary republic, no. I doubt anyone would or could argue that point. But the United States is not and was not meant to be a unitary republic. We are a collection of sovereign states that grant power to a federal government. So in that sense, the electoral college is a fair, albeit not perfect, system that seeks to reallocate electoral power from high population states to low population states.
Today’s post is a choropleth map from the Washington Post examining diversity in the United States and how fast or slow diversity is expanding. Normally with two variables one goes instantly to the scatter plot. But here the Post explored the two variables geographically. And it holds up.
The colours are perhaps the only part holding me up on the piece’s design. Are blue and yellow the best two colours to represent level of diversity and growth? I lose some of the gradation in the yellows, especially between the big increases in diversity. Can I offer a better solution? No, and maybe there is not. But I would love the chance to explore different palette options.
As you well know, I am not a big fan of always plotting things on maps. I call them the silver bullet. However, in this instance, there are clear geographic patterns to the four different scenarios. Of course this soon after the election I would love adding a third variable: how the counties voted in the presidential election. Maybe next time.
Credit for the piece goes to Dan Keating and Laris Karklis.
One of the things discussed during the election season—though very minorly compared to other things—is the national debt. Debt itself is not scary. Look at student loans, home loans, auto loans, &c. Look at the credit cards in your wallet. But running a country is far more difficult and complex than a household budget. That said, our national debt is high, though of late it has been trending in a positive direction, i.e. flattening out its growth curve.
So what would electing either Clinton or Trump do to the debt? Well, nothing great. According to this piece from the Washington Post, we would be talking about increasing the debt because of plans that are not fully funded or revenue cuts that fail to match spending cuts. But as the graphic shows with a really nice piece of layout between text and image, one option is far worse than the other for the issue of the national debt.
The opening graphic above draws the reader into the overall piece, but the remainder of the piece breaks down policies and implications with additional graphics. If you want to understand the differences between the candidates and the impact of those differences, this is a good read.
Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Uhrmacher and Jim Tankersley.
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.
Last week the Washington Post published a fascinating article on the data visualisation work of the Donald Trump media campaign. In my last job I frequently harped on the importance of displaying the baseline and/or setting the baseline to zero. When you fail to do so you distort the data. But maybe that is the point of this, for lack of a better term, political data visualisation.
My favourite author is George Orwell of 1984 and Animal Farm fame. But Orwell also penned numerous essays, one of which has struck me as particularly relevant in this election cycle: Politics and the English Language. In concluding the essay Orwell wrote:
Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
And so political data visualisation? Well I believe it exists to serve the same purpose. The article goes into detail about how the designers behind the graphics fudged the numbers. Now did the campaign intend to mislead people with the data visualisation graphics? It is hard to say, because some of their graphics actually diminish leads that Trump has among certain demographics. Could it be the designer behind the graphics simply does not understand what he or she is doing? Perhaps. We clearly cannot know for certain.
Either way, it points to a need for more understanding of the importance and value of data visualisation in the political discourse. And then the natural follow-up of how to best design and create said visualisations to best inform the public.
But I highly recommend going to the Post and reading the entirety of the article.
Credit for the original work goes to the Trump campaign graphics department, the criticism to John Muyskens of the Washington Post.
Well last night was the debate and it was a doozy. But while I was looking for some graphics capturing the debate itself, I came upon an article over on the Washington Post about gerrymandering. For those that do not know, gerrymandering is when state-level politicians draw the maps for congressional districts to preserve or diminish support for various representatives. And Pennsylvania is one of those states with a lot of oddly shaped districts.
Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.
Today Donald Trump should take the stage at the Republican National Convention as he accepts the party’s nomination to run for president. I suspect he will mention Crooked Hillary and quite possibly her e-mails. Thankfully, we have this Washington Post piece from earlier this month that examines the severity of her lapses in security.
Yesterday I looked at the coverage of the Orlando shooting. Today I want to look at a really nice piece from the Washington Post on the political reaction to the shooting. The Post collected the reactions and official statements of Congress, over 500 representatives and senators. They performed some analysis of the words and then parsed out sentences into groups. In the screenshot below, the phrases are colour-coded by party affiliation and then link to the copy of the statement. The end of the article features tiles for every statement, with relevant phrases colour-coded to those groups, e.g. phrases using something about thoughts and prayers. One of the most pronounced splits is on gun rights vs. gun controls. But overall, the whole piece is worth a read.
Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Weiyi Cai, Denise Lu, and Lazaro Gamio.