Whilst We Wait for Roe…

to be overturned by the Supreme Court, as seems likely, states have been busy passing laws to both restrict and expand abortion access. This article from FiveThirtyEight describes the statutory activity with the use of a small multiple graphic I’ve screenshot below.

Too much colour for my liking

Each little map represents an action that states could have taken recently, for example in the first we have states banning abortion before 13 weeks, i.e. a nearly total ban on abortion. It uses dots, for this map orange, to indicate legislative acts to that effect. But if states have passed multiple legislative acts, e.g. South Dakota when it comes to banning specific types or reasons for abortion, multiple dots are used.

I generally like this, but would have liked to have seen an overview map either at the beginning or end that would put all the states together in context. Dot placement, especially for states like Kentucky, would be tricky, but it would go a way to show how complex and convoluted the issue has become at the state level.

Credit for the piece goes to Ryan Best.

Political Hatch Jobs

Earlier this week I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the political prospects of some of the candidates for the open US Senate seat for Pennsylvania, for which I and many others will be voting come November. But before I get to vote on a candidate, members of the political parties first get to choose whom they want on the ballot. (In Pennsylvania, independent voters like myself are ineligible to vote in party primaries.)

This year the Republican Party has several candidates running and one of them you may have heard of: Dr. Oz. Yeah, the one from television. And while he is indeed the front runner, he is not in front by much as the article explains. Indeed, the race largely had been a two-person contest between Oz and David McCormick until recently when Kathy Barnette pulled just about even with the two.

In fact, according to a recent poll the three candidates are all statistically tied in that they all fall within the margin of error for victory. And that brings us to the graphic from the article.

It would be funny to see a candidate finish with negative vote share.

Conceptually this is a pretty simple bar chart with the bar representing the share of the support of those polled. But I wanted to point out how the designer chose to represent the margin of error via hatched shading to both sides of the ends of the red bar.

In some cases the hatch job does not work for me, particularly with those smaller candidates where the bar goes negative. I would have grave reservations about the vote should any candidate win a negative share of the vote. 0% perhaps, but negative? No. I also don’t think the grey hatching works as well over the grey bar in particular and to a lesser degree the red.

I have often thought that these sorts of charts should use some kind of box plot approach. So this morning I took the chart above and reworked it.

Now with box plots.

Overall, however, I really like this designer’s approach. We should not fear subtlety and nuance, and margins of error are just that. After all, we need not go back too far in time to remember a certain candidate who thought she had a presidential election locked up when really her opponent was within the margin of error.

Credit for the piece goes to John Duchneskie.

The Potential Impacts of Throwing Out Roe v Wade

Spoiler: they are significant.

Last night we had breaking news on two very big fronts. The first is that somebody inside the Supreme Court leaked an entire draft of the majority opinion, written by Justice Alito, to Politico. Leaks from inside the Supreme Court, whilst they do happen, are extremely rare. This alone is big news.

But let’s not bury the lede, the majority opinion is to throw out Roe v. Wade in its entirety. For those not familiar, perhaps especially those of you who read me from abroad, Roe v Wade is the name of a court case that went before the United States Supreme Court in 1971 and was decided in 1973. It established the woman’s right to an abortion as constitutionally protected, allowing states to enact some regulations to balance out the state’s role in concern for women’s public health and the health of the fetus as it nears birth. Regardless of how you feel about the issue—and people have very strong feelings about it—that’s largely been the law of the United States for half a century.

Until now.

To be fair, the draft opinion is just that, a draft. And the supposed 5-3 vote—Chief Justice Roberts is reportedly undecided, but against the wholesale overthrow of Roe—could well change. But let’s be real, it won’t. And even if Roberts votes against the majority he would only make the outcome 5-4. In other words, it looks like at some point this summer, probably June or July, tens of millions of American women will lose access to reproductive healthcare.

And to the point of this post, what will that mean for women?

This article by Grid runs down some of the numbers, starting with laying out the numbers on who chooses to have abortions. And then ultimately getting to this map that I screenshot.

That’s pretty long distances in the south…

The map shows how far women in a state would need to travel for an abortion with Roe active as law and without. I’ve used the toggle to show without. Women in the south in particular will need to travel quite far. The article further breaks out distances today with more granularity to paint the picture of “abortion deserts” where women have to travel sometimes well over 200 miles to have a safe, legal abortion.

I am certain that we will be returning to this topic frequently in coming months, unfortunately.

Credit for the piece goes to Alex Leeds Matthews.

Where’s My (State) Stimulus?

Here’s an interesting post from FiveThirtyEight. The article explores where different states have spent their pandemic relief funding from the federal government. The nearly $2 trillion dollar relief included a $350 billion block grant given to the states, to do with as they saw fit. After all, every state has different needs and priorities. Huzzah for federalism. But where has that money been going?

Enter the bubbles.

I mean bubbles need water distribution systems, right?

This decision to use a bubble chart fascinates me. We know that people are not great at differentiating between area. That’s why bars, dots, and lines remain the most effective form of visually communicating differences in quantities. And as with the piece we looked at on Monday, we don’t have a legend that informs us how big the circles are relative to the dollar values they represent.

And I mention that part because what I often find is that with these types of charts, designers simply say the width of the circle represents, in this case, the dollar value. But the problem is we don’t see just the diameter of the circle, we actually see the area. And if you recall your basic maths, the area of a circle = πr2. In other words, the designer is showing you far more than the value you want to see and it distorts the relationship. I am not saying that is what is happening here, but that’s because we do not have a legend to confirm that for us.

This sort of piece would also be helped by limited duty interactivity. Because, as a Pennsylvanian, I am curious to see where the Commonwealth is choosing to spend its share of the relief funds. But there is no way at present to dive into the data. Of course, if Pennsylvania is not part of the overall story—and it’s not—than an inline graphic need not show the Keystone State. In these kinds of stories, however, I often enjoy an interactive piece at the end wherein I can explore the breadth and depth of the data.

So if we accept that a larger interactive piece is off the table, could the graphic have been redesigned to show more of the state level data with more labelling? A tree map would be an improvement over the bubbles because scaling to length and height is easier than a circle, but still presents the area problem. What a tree map allows is inherent grouping, so one could group by either spending category or by state.

I would bet that a smart series of bar charts could work really well here. It would require some clever grouping and probably colouring, but a well structured set of bars could capture both the states and categories and could be grouped by either.

Overall a fascinating idea, but I’m left just wanting a little more from the execution.

Credit for the piece goes to Elena Mejia.

Colours for Maps

Today we have an interesting little post, a choropleth map in a BBC article examining the changes occurring in the voting systems throughout the United States. Broadly speaking, we see two trends in the American political system when it comes to voting: make it easier because democracy; make it more restrictive because voter fraud/illegitimacy. The underlying issue, however, is that we have not seen any evidence of widespread or concerted efforts of voter fraud or problems with elections.

Think mail-in ballots are problematic? They’ve been used for decades without issues in many states. That doesn’t mean a new state could screw up the implementation of mail-in voting, but it’s a proven safe and valid system for elections.

Think that were issues of fraudulent voters? We had something like sixty cases brought before the courts and I believe in only one or two instances were the issues even remotely proven. The article cites some Associated Press (AP) reporting that identified only 500 cases of fraudulent votes. Out of over 14 million votes cast.

500 out of 14,000,000.

Anyway, the map in the article colours states by whether they have passed expansive or restrictive changes to voting. Naturally there are categories for no changes as well as when some expansive changes and some restrictive changes were both passed.

Normally I would expect to see a third colour for the overlap. Imagine we had red and blue, a blend of those colours like purple would often be a designer’s choice. Here, however, we have a hatched pattern with alternating stripes of orange and blue. You don’t see this done very often, and so I just wanted to highlight it.

I don’t know if this marks a new stylistic design direction by the BBC graphics department. Here I don’t necessarily love the pattern itself, the colours make it difficult to read the text—though the designers outlined said text, so points for that.

But I’ll be curious to see if I, well, see more of this in coming weeks and months.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Slaveholders in the Halls of Congress

Taking a break from going through the old articles and things I’ve saved, let’s turn to a an article from the Washington Post published earlier this week. As the title indicates, the Post’s article explores slaveholders in Congress. Many of us know that the vast majority of antebellum presidents at one point or another owned slaves. (Washington and Jefferson being the two most commonly cited in recent years.) But what about the other branches of government?

The article is a fascinating read about the prevalence of slaveholders in the legislative branch. For our purposes it uses a series of bar charts and maps to illustrate its point. Now, the piece isn’t truly interactive as it’s more of the scrolling narrative, but at several points in American history the article pauses to show the number of slaveholders in office during a particular Congress. The screenshot below is from the 1807 Congress.

That year is an interesting choice, not mentioned explicitly in the article, because the United States Constitution prohibited Congress from passing limits on the slave trade prior to 1808. But in 1807 Congress passed a law that banned the slave trade from 1 January 1808, the first day legally permitted by the Constitution.

Almost half of Congress in the early years had, at one point or another, owned slaves.

Graphic-wise, we have a set of bar charts representing the percentage and then a choropleth map showing each state’s number of slaveholders in Congress. As we will see in a moment, the map here is a bit too small to work. Can you really see Delaware, Rhode Island, and (to a lesser extent) New Jersey? Additionally, because of the continuous gradient it can be difficult to distinguish just how many slaveholders were present in each state. I wonder if a series of bins would have been more effective.

The decision to use actual numbers intrigues me as well. Ohio, for example, has few slaveholders in Congress based upon the map. But as a newly organised state, Ohio had only two senators and one congressman. That’s a small actual, but 33% of its congressional delegation.

Overall though, the general pervasiveness of slaveholders warrants the use of a map to show geographic distribution was not limited to just the south.

Later on we have what I think is the best graphic of the article, a box map showing each state’s slaveholders over time.

How the trends changed over time over geography.

Within each state we can see the general trend, including the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The use of a light background allows white to represent pre-statehood periods for each state. And of course some states, notably Alaska and Hawaii, joined the United States well after this period.

But I also want to address one potential issue with the methodology of the article. One that it does briefly address, albeit tangentially. This data set looks at all people who at one point or another in their life held slaves. First, contextually, in the early years of the republic slavery was not uncommon throughout the world. Though by the aforementioned year of 1807 the institution appeared on its way out in the West. Sadly the cotton gin revolutionised the South’s cotton industry and reinvigorated the economic impetus for slavery. There after slavery boomed. The banning of the slave trade shortly thereafter introduced scarcity into the slave market and then the South’s “peculiar institution” truly took root. That cotton boom may well explain how the initial decline in the prevalence of slaveholders in the first few Congresses reversed itself and then held steady through the early decades of the 19th century.

And that initial decline before a hardening of support for slavery is what I want to address. The data here looks only at people who at one point in their life held slaves. It’s not an accurate representation of current slaveholders in Congress at the time they served. It’s a subtle but important distinction. The most obvious result of this is how after the 1860s the graphics show members of Congress as slaveholders when this was not the case. They had in the past held slaves.

That is not to say that some of those members were reluctant and, in all likelihood, would have preferred to have kept their slaves. And therefore those numbers are important to understand. But it undermines the count of people who eventually came to realise the error of their ways. The article addresses this briefly, recounting several anecdotes of people who later in life became abolitionists. I wonder though whether these people should count in this graphic as—so far as we can tell—their personal views changed so substantially to be hardened against slavery.

I would be very curious to see these charts remade with a data set that accounts for contemporary ownership of slaves represented in Congress.

Regardless of the methodology issue, this is still a fascinating and important read.

Credit for the piece goes to Adrian Blanco, Leo Dominguez, and Julie Zuazmer Weil.

Germany’s Political Coalitions

Two weekends ago, Germany went to the polls for their federal election in which they chose their representatives in the Bundestag, or legislature. Germany, however, is not a two-party system and no single party won a majority of seats. Consequently, the parties need to negotiate and form a coalition government. That could take a number of different forms given the number of different parties and their number of seats.

Thankfully the BBC produced a small graphic in an article that detailed how Angela Merkel’s political heir likely won’t take charge of the new government.

Here in the States we can only dream of coalition governments…

It’s a simple graphic, but given the terms Traffic Light coalition, Jamaica coalition, and Kenya coalition I think it’s a necessary graphic to help explain the makeup of these potential coalition arrangements. This falls into the category of small but exceptionally clear graphics. More proof that not all useful graphics need to be flashy.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Covid Vaccination and Political Polarisation

I will try to get to my weekly Covid-19 post tomorrow, but today I want to take a brief look at a graphic from the New York Times that sat above the fold outside my door yesterday morning. And those who have been following the blog know that I love print graphics above the fold.

On my proverbial stoop this morning.

Of the six-column layout, you can see that this graphic gets three, in other words half-a-page width, and the accompany column of text for the article brings this to nearly 2/3 the front page.

When we look more closely at the graphic, you can see it consists of two separate parts, a scatter plot and a line chart. And that’s where it begins to fall apart for me.

Pennsylvania is thankfully on the more vaccinated side of things

The scatter plot uses colour to indicate the vote share that went to Trump. My issue with this is that the colour isn’t necessary. If you look at the top for the x-axis labelling, you will see that the axis represents that same data. If, however, the designer chose to use colour to show the range of the state vote, well that’s what the axis labelling should be for…except there is none.

If the scatter plot used proper x-axis labels, you could easily read the range on either side of the political spectrum, and colour would no longer be necessary. I don’t entirely understand the lack of labelling here, because on the y-axis the scatter plot does use labelling.

On a side note, I would probably have added a US unvaccination rate for a benchmark, to see which states are above and below the US average.

Now if we look at the second part of the graphic, the line chart, we do see labelling for the axis here. But what I’m not fond of here is that the line for counties with large Trump shares, the line significantly exceeds the the maximum range of the chart. And then for the 0.5 deaths per 100,000 line, the dots mysteriously end short of the end of the chart. It’s not as if the line would have overlapped with the data series. And even if it did, that’s the point of an axis line, so the user can know when the data has exceeded an interval.

I really wanted to like this piece, because it is a graphic above the fold. But the more I looked at it in detail, the more issues I found with the graphic. A couple of tweaks, however, would quickly bring it up to speed.

Credit for the piece goes to Ashley Wu.

Misleading Graphics Aren’t Limited to US Elections

Last week I wrote about how CBS News’ coverage of the California recall election featured a misleading graphic. In particular, the graphic created the appearance that the results were closer than they really were.

This week we had another election and, sadly, I find that I have to write the same sort of piece again. Except this time we are headed north of the border to Canada.

I was watching CBC coverage last night and I noticed early on that the vote share bar chart looked off given the data points. Next time it popped up I took a screenshot.

Look at the bars

First we need to note these are three-dimensional and the camera angle kept swinging around—not ideal for a fair comparison. This was the most straight-on angle I captured.

Second, at first glance, we have the Conservative share at a little more than 3/4 the Liberal vote share. That looks to be about right. Then you have the New Democratic Party (NDP) at roughly half the vote of the Conservatives. And the bar looks about half the height of the blue Conservative bar. Checks out. Then you have the People’s Party of Canada at roughly 1/4 the amount of NDP votes. But now look at the bar’s height. The purple bar is nearly the same height as the orange bar.

Clearly that is wrong and misleading.

The problem, I think, is that the designers artificially inflated the height of the bars to include the labels and data points for the bars. The designers should have dropped the labelling below the bars and let the bars only represent the data.

I created the following graphic to show how the chart should have looked.

And my take…

Here you can more clearly see how much greater the NDP victory was over the People’s Party. The labelling falls below the charts and doesn’t distort the height comparison between the bars. In some respects, it wasn’t even close. But the original graphic made it look else wise.

I just wish I knew what the designers were thinking. Why did they inflate the bars? Like with the CBS News graphic, I hope it wasn’t intentional. Rather, I hope it was some kind of mistake or even ignorance.

Credit for the original piece goes to the CBC graphics department.

Credit for the updated version is mine.

2020 Census Apportionment

Every ten years the United States conducts a census of the entire population living within the United States. My genealogy self uses the federal census as the backbone of my research. But that’s not what it’s really there for. No, it exists to count the people to apportion representation at the federal level (among other reasons).

The founding fathers did not intend for the United States to be a true democracy. They feared the tyranny of mob rule as majority populations are capable of doing and so each level of the government served as a check on the other. The census-counted people elected their representatives for the House, but their senators were chosen by their respective state legislatures. But I digress, because this post is about a piece in the New York Times examining the new census apportionment results.

I received my copy of the Times two Tuesdays ago, so these are photos of the print piece instead of the digital, online editions. The paper landed at my front door with a nice cartogram above the fold.

A cartogram exploded.

Each state consists of squares, each representing one congressional district. This is the first place where I have an issue with the graphic, admittedly a minor one. First we need to look at the graphic’s header, “States That Will Gain or Los Seats in the Next Congress” and then look at the graphic. It’s unclear to me if the squares therefore represent the states today with their numbers of districts, or if we are looking at a reapportioned map. Up in Montana, I know that we are moving from one at-large seat to two seat, and so I can resolve that this is the new apportionment. But I am left wondering if a quick phrase or sentence that declares these represent the 2022 election apportionment and not those of this past decade would be clearer?

Or if you want a graphic treatment, you could have kept all the states grey, but used an unfilled square in those states, like Pennsylvania and Illinois, losing seats, and then a filled square in the states adding seats.

Inside the paper, the article continued and we had a few more graphics. The above graphic served as the foundation for a second graphic that charted the changing number of seats since 1910, when the number of seats was fixed.

Timeline of gains and losses

I really like this graphic. My issue here is more with my mobile that took the picture. Some of these states appear quite light, and they are on the printed page. However, they are not quite as light as these photos make them out to be. That said, could they be darker? Probably. Even in print, the dark grey “no change” instances jump out instead of perhaps falling to the background.

The remaining few graphics are far more straightforward, one isn’t even a graphic technically.

First we have two maps.

Good old primary colours.

Nothing particularly remarkable here. The colours make a lot of sense, with red representing Republicans and blue Democrats. Yellow represents independent commissions and grey is only one state, Pennsylvania, where the legislature is controlled by Republicans and the governorship by Democrats.

Finally we have a table with the raw numbers.

Tables are great for organising information. Do you have a state you’re most curious about, Illinois for example? If so, you can quickly scan down the state column to find the row and then over to the column of interest. What tables don’t allow you to do is quickly identify any visual patterns. Here the designers chose to shade the cells based on positive/negative changes, but that’s not highlighting a pattern.

Overall, this was a really strong piece from the Times. With just a few language tweaks on the front page, this would be superb.

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