Charts that ask questions about the German election
Sep 28, 2021
In the prior post about Canadian elections, I suggested that designers expand beyond plots of one variable at a time. Today, I look at a project by DataWrapper on the German elections which happened this week. Thanks to long-time blog supporter Antonio for submitting the chart.
The following is the centerpiece of Lisa's work:
CDU/CSU is Angela Merkel's party, represented by the black color. The chart answers one question only: did polls correctly predict election results?
The time period from 1994 to 2021 covers eight consecutive elections (counting the one this week). There are eight vertical blocks on the chart representing each administration. The right vertical edge of each block coincides with an election. The chart is best understood as the superposition of two time series.
You can trace the first time series by following a step function - let your eyes follow the flat lines between elections. This dataset shows the popular vote won by the party at each election, with the value updated after each election. The last vertical block represents an election that has not yet happened when this chart was created. As explained in the footnote, Lisa took the average poll result for the last month leading up to the 2021 election - in the context of this chart, she made the assumption that this cycle of polls will be 100% accurate.
The second time series corresponds to the ragged edges of the gray and black areas. If you ignore the colors, and the flat lines, you'll discover that the ragged edges form a contiguous data series. This line encodes the average popularity of the CDU/CSU party according to election polls.
Thus, the area between the step function and the ragged line measures the gap between polls and election day results. When the polls underestimate the actual outcome, the area is colored gray; when the polls are over-optimistic, the area is colored black. In the last completed election of 2017, Merkel's party underperformed relative to the polls. In fact, the polls in the entire period between the 2013 and 2017 uniformly painted a rosier picture for CDU/CSU than actually happened.
The last vertical block is interpreted a little differently. Since the reference level is the last month of polls (rather than the actual popular vote), the abundance of black indicates that Merkel's party has been suffering from declining poll numbers on the approach of this week's election.
The picture shown above seems to indicate that these polls are not particularly good. It appears they have limited ability to self-correct within each election cycle. Aside from the 1998-2002 period, the area colors seldom changed within each cycle. That means if the first polling average overestimated the party's popularity, then all subsequent polling averages were also optimistic. (The original post focused on a single pollster, which exacerbates this issue. Compare the following chart with the above, and you'll find even fewer color changes within cycle here:
Each pollster may be systematically biased but the poll aggregate is less so.)
Here's the chart for SDP, which is CDU/CSU's biggest opponent, and likely winner of this week's election:
Overall, this chart has similar features as the CDU/CSU chart. The most recent polls seem to favor the SPD - the pink area indicates that the older polls of this cycle underestimates the last month's poll result.
Both these parties are in long-term decline, with popularity dropping from the 40% range in the 1990s to the 20% range in the 2020s.
One smaller party that seems to have gained followers is the Green party:
The excess of dark green, however, does not augur well for this election.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.