CPSC 533C Assignment 1

Dave Ternes, 43469006


Bad Visualization

SOURCE: NPR Election Night 2004 http://www.npr.org/index_election2004special.html

Description: This is a visualization of the results of the 2004 US presidential elections, as seen on the NPR website during their coverage of the event last November. This visualization is essentially a map showing which party won which state in the Presidential election, with Republican-won states coloured red and Democratic-won states coloured blue. This colouring is very standard in all such maps (and even political discourse), so there is no strong need to provide a key. Other than the colouring of the states this is a very straightforward map of the US, with little extra data provided beyond the abbreviated state names. Nonetheless maps such as these were used very frequently around the time of the 2004 election, to show how George Bush and John Kerry had fared.

Commentary: While fairly simple, this visualization does not convey much in the way of useful information, and, more damningly, actually provides a misleading view into the results of the presidential race which it purports to represent. The only information that can be gleaned directly from the map is which states which party has won, while information on who the winner actually is and on the proportion of the vote that he actually received is nowhere to be found. This is especially troublesome due to the US's complex electoral system, in which each state is assigned a number of votes in the Electoral College proportional to its population; the candidate winning the majority vote in each state then wins all of its electoral votes, and the candidate with the most electoral votes at the end of the night wins the election. What this means is that winning certain populous states (such as California or Florida) has a far greater importance than winning a state like Wyoming. However, this is not at all represented in this map. In fact, a person ignorant of the US electoral system would likely assume, due to the number and size of red states in the diagram, that the republicans won by a landslide, while the reality is that the race was quite tight. This diagram seems to assume that the viewer is completely aware of the electoral system and, what's more, actually knows the number of electoral votes each state has. This is not a very tenable assumption.


Good Visualization

SOURCE: NYTimes.com Election Results 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/politics/2004_ELECTIONRESULTS_GRAPHIC/

Description: This is, again, a visualization of the results of the 2004 US Presidential Elections. Once again, states won by the Democrats are shown in blue, while states won by the Republicans are shown in red. However, this time the state's size is determined by the number of electoral votes it has, with each vote being represented as a box within the state. The layout of the states is still based on their relative geography, so the diagram is still reminiscent of a map of the US.

Commentary: While this visualization still conveys all the information contained in the first example (ie, who won what state), it also is much more realistic in depicting the relative importance of each of the wins. By making each states' size relative to its number of electoral votes, it is possible to tell at a glance that the race was actually quite close. Furthermore by representing each electoral vote as a graphical square within a state, it is possible to get a fairly concrete idea of the relative worth of each state. The one downside is that it would be rather cumbersome to actually count out all the electoral votes and determine the winner; this is dealt with by the fact that this diagram was generally accompanied by the actual number of electoral votes won by each candidate. Essentially, this visualization succeeds by not getting overly fixated on geography and instead focusing on the electoral votes--which is what actually decides who wins the election. Thus a much clearer view of the election results is gained.