County Vote Spinogram (Dem 2PV), 2008 by David B. Sparks.

Election Infographics: The top 1% of visualizations (and the bottom 47%)

In honor of the presidential election tomorrow (I won’t tell you who I’m voting for, but I live in Massachusetts so you can probably guess), here’s a roundup of some of the best election infographics and visualizations I’ve seen this cycle–with a few other goodies thrown in for good measure.

Let’s start off with the simplest and then get more complex. First, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this year’s election data darling, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, a blog which the New York Times jumped on in 2010 after Silver’s free-standing blog correctly predicted 49 of 50 states in the 2008 election. The graphics used by FiveThirtyEight are generally extremely lightweight, aiming for clarity and immediate legibility over excitement: all are excellent examples of Edward Tufte’s principles of avoiding chartjunk and maintaining a high data-ink ratio. I particularly like the following chart for its incorporation of sparklines, another Tufte invention, to show the trend in swing-state polls across a series of timespans: 1) the period between Romney becoming the official GOP nominee (6/1) and the end of both party conventions (9/27), 2) the period between conventions and the Denver debate (10/4), 3) the time between the Denver debate and the second debate (10/13), 4) the time between the second and third debates, and 5) the third debate until the date the chart was published (11/1). While the use of subtle blue and red shading gives a sense of the overall trends, the sparklines give an immediate reading of the ups and downs of the poll averages in each state.

Simple Average of Likely Voter Polls

Let’s look now at a few more graphics from the New York Times, who are a very consistent source of infographics of the clear and simple variety. One graphic that has gotten a lot of attention recently is a fantastic interactive graphic by Mike Bostok and Shan Carter that charts, through electoral vote count, how the states have shifted party affiliation over every presidential election since 1952. I love the way this graphic conveys so much data so simply. By my count, there are five variables shown: 1) time (Y-axis), 2) percent of vote (X-axis), 3/4) number of electoral votes and percentage of total (thickness of line), and 5) winning party (red or blue color). This is a supergraphic in every sense of the word: it is dense, content-rich, and equally compelling at a macro and micro level. It’s the kind of graphic that you can read in a few seconds, or spend an hour playing around with and making new discoveries.

Another great interactive graphic by Bostock and Carter just published today uses a tree structure to examine all of the possible roads to victory (270 electoral votes) for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This is another graphic that you can spend hours playing with, testing out different scenarios, and really, the graphic is best used for that purpose. Where it is less successful is in conveying the most likely outcomes visually. While right now the line width is representative of the number of electoral votes each branch produces, perhaps at least the option of a different weighting that reflected probabilities would be useful.

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