Revenge of the Flyover States

Just before Halloween, NBC News published an article by political analyst David Wasserman that examined what airports could portend about the 2020 American presidential election. For those interested in politics and the forthcoming election, the article is well worth the read.

The tldr; Democrats have been great at winning over cosmopolitan types in global metropolitan areas in the big blue states, e.g. New York and California. But the election will be won in the states where the metropolitan areas that sport regional airports dominate, i.e. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. And in those districts, support for Democrats is waning.

The closing line of the piece sums it up nicely:

…to beat Trump, Democrats will need to ask themselves which candidates’ proposals will fly in Erie, Saginaw and Green Bay.

But what about the graphics?

We have a line chart that shows how support for Democrats has been increasing amongst those in the global and international airport metros.

Democrats aren't performing well with the non-global and international types of metros
Democrats aren’t performing well with the non-global and international types of metros

It uses four colours and I don’t necessarily love that. However, it smartly ties into an earlier graphic that did require each series to be visualised in a different colour. And so here the consistency wins out and carries on through the piece. (Though as a minor quibble I would have outlined the MSA being labelled instead of placing a dot atop the MSA.)

A lot of these global metros are in already blue states
A lot of these global metros are in already blue states

The kicker, however is one of those maps with trend arrows. It shows the increasing Republican support by an arrow anchored over the metropolitan area.

Lot of Trump support in the battleground states
Lot of Trump support in the battleground states

The problem here is many-fold. First, the map is actually quite small in the overall piece. Whereas the earlier maps sit centred, but outside the main text block, this fits neatly within the narrow column of text (on a laptop display at least). That means that these labels are all crowded and actually make it more difficult to realise which arrow is which city. For example, which line is Canton, Ohio? Additionally with the labels, because they are set in black text and a relatively bolder face, they standout more than the red lines they seek to label. Consequently, the users’ focus falls not on the lines, but actually on the labels—the reverse of what a good graphic should do.

Second, length vs. angle. If all lines moved away from their anchor at the same angle, we could simply measure length and compare the trending support that way. However, it is clear from Duluth and Green Bay that the angles are different in addition to their sizes. So how does one interpret both variables together?

Third, I wonder if the map would not have been made more useful with some outlines or shading. I may know what the forthcoming battleground states are. And I might know where they are on a map. But Americans are notorious for being, well, not great when it comes to geography. A simple black outline of the states could have been useful, though it in this design would have conflicted with the heavy black labelling of the arrows. Or maybe a purple shading could have been used to show those states.

Overall, the piece is well worth a read and the graphics generally help tell the narrative visually. But that final graphic could have used a revision or two.

Credit for the piece goes to Jiachuan Wu and Jeremia Kimelman.

The New American Center

NBC News and Esquire magazine published results from their August survey of some 2000+ respondents that attempted to define the New American Center, i.e. the political persuasions of the majority of the country excepting the radical right and the loony left. For the purposes of Coffee Spoons, I am most interested in looking at the data visualisation and the infographics that result.

Both NBC News and Esquire visualised the results. While I could write two long blog posts looking at both of them, for today, it is more important to look more at the fundamental design difference between the two.

NBC News opted for a design direction emphasising data first. Perhaps because NBC is a news platform, their focus was on the clean communication of the data. Looking

NBC News results
NBC News results

On the other hand, Esquire opted for a more sensationalised direction. The same data points used for the screenshot above creates this graphic below. Not only is less data is contained, less context given, less subtlety and nuance captured, it also is just difficult to read. Is the 59% supposed to be the area of the cross filled in? Its length? Why is it three-dimensional? Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? At first glance, I ignore the horizontal wings and focus solely on the vertical length of the main bar.

Esquire results
Esquire results

For a useful representation of data, I think NBC News clearly wins. But that both organisations used the same data to craft their separate results, this story on the New American Center is useful for comparing two different design directions and the results thereof.

No designers are specifically mentioned, at least not that I could find, so credit for each piece goes to its respective owner, i.e. NBC News or Esquire.