Ridings, polls, elections, O Canada
Sep 20, 2021
Stephen Taylor reached out to me about his work to visualize Canadian elections data. I took a look. I appreciate the labor of love behind this project.
He led with a streamgraph, which presents a quick overview of relative party strengths over time.
I am no Canadian election expert, and I did a bare minimum of research in writing this blog. From this chart, I learn that:
- the Canadians have an irregular election schedule
- Canada has a two party plus breadcrumbs system
- The two dominant parties are Liberals and Conservatives. The Liberals currently hold just less than half of the seats. The Conservatives have more than half of the seats not held by Liberals
- The Conservative party (maybe) rebranded as "progressive conservative" for several decades. The Reform/Alliance party was (maybe) a splinter movement within the Conservatives as well.
- Since the "width" of the entire stream increased over time, I'm guessing the number of seats has expanded
That's quite a bit of information obtained at a glance. This shows the power of data visualization. Notice Stephen didn't even have to include a "how to read this" box.
The streamgraph form has its limitations.
The feature that makes it more attractive than an area chart is its middle anchoring, resulting in a form of symmetry. The same feature produces erroneous intuition - the red patch draws out a declining trend; the reader must fight the urge to interpret the lines and focus on the areas.
The breadcrumbs are well hidden. The legend below discloses that the Green Party holds 3 seats currently. The party has never held enough seats to appear on the streamgraph though.
The bars showing proportions in the legend is a very nice touch. (The numbers appear messed up - I have to ask Stephen whether the seats shown are current values, or some kind of historical average.) I am a big fan of informative legends.
The next featured chart is a dot plot of polling results since 2020.
One can see a three-tier system: the two main parties, then the NDP (yellow) is the clear majority of the minority, and finally you have a host of parties that don't poll over 10%.
It looks like the polls are favoring the Conservatives over the Liberals in this election but it may be an election-day toss-up.
The purple dots represent "PPC" which is a party not found elsewhere on the page.
This chart is clear as crystal because of the structure of the underlying data. It just amazes me that the polls are so highly correlated. For example, across all these polls, the NDP has never once polled better than either the Liberals or the Conservatives, and in addition, it has never polled worse than any of the small parties.
What I'd like to see is a chart that merges the two datasets, addressing the question of how well these polls predicted the actual election outcomes.
The project goes very deep as Stephen provides charts for individual "ridings" (perhaps similar to U.S. precincts).
Here we see population pyramids for Vancouver Center, versus British Columbia (Province), versus Canada.
This riding has a large surplus of younger people in their twenties and thirties. Be careful about the changing scales though. The relative difference in proportions are more drastic than visually displayed because the maximum values (5%) on the Province and Canada charts are half that on the Riding chart (10%). Imagine squashing the Province and Canada charts to half their widths.
Analyses of income and rent/own status are also provided.
This part of the dashboard exhibits a problem common in most dashboards - they present each dimension of the data separately and miss out on the more interesting stuff: the correlation between dimensions. Do people in their twenties and thirties favor specific parties? Do richer people vote for certain parties?
The riding-level maps are the least polished part of the site. This is where I'm looking for a "how to read it" box.
It took me a while to realize that the colors represent the parties. If I haven't come in from the front page, I'd have been totally lost.
Next, I got confused by the use of the word "poll". Clicking on any of the subdivisions bring up details of an actual race, with party colors, candidates and a donut chart showing proportions. The title gives a "poll id" and the name of the riding in parentheses. Since the poll id changes as I mouse over different subdivisions, I'm wondering whether a "poll" is the term for a subdivision of a riding. A quick wiki search indicates otherwise.
My best guess is the subdivisions are indicated by the numbers.
Back to the donut charts, I prefer a different sorting of the candidates. For this chart, the two most logical orderings are (a) order by overall popularity of the parties, fixed for all ridings and (b) order by popularity of the candidate, variable for each riding.
The map shown above gives the winner in each subdivision. This type of visualization dumps a lot of information. Stephen tackles this issue by offering a small multiples view of each party. Here is the Liberals in Vancouver.
Again, we encounter ambiguity about the color scheme. Liberals have been associated with a red color but we are faced with abundant yellow. After clicking on the other parties, you get the idea that he has switched to a divergent continuous color scale (red - yellow - green). Is red or green the higher value? (The answer is red.)
I'd suggest using a gray scale for these charts. The hardest decision is going to be the encoding between values and shading. Should each gray scale be different for each riding and each party?
If I were to take a guess, Stephen must have spent weeks if not months creating these maps (depending on whether he's full-time or part-time). What he has published here is a great start. Fine-tuning the issues I've mentioned may take more weeks or months more.
Stephen is brave and smart to send this project for review. For one thing, he's got some free consulting. More importantly, we should always send work around for feedback; other readers can tell us where our blind spots are.
To read more, start with this post by Stephen in which he introduces his project.
A riding is more like a congressional district than a precinct, as each riding elects a member of parliament. A poll (polling division, more formally) is indeed a very small subdivision of a riding, generally representing an area with only a few hundred voters. A particular polling station might be used for several polls, each with their own numbered ballot box. Polling divisions don't really exist outside of election day, though I imagine the level of detail they provide can be useful for campaigners.
Posted by: A Canadian Reader | Sep 21, 2021 at 02:39 AM
Thank you, Canadian Reader. Regarding "poll", does the word have two meanings then? In the dot plot, the data could represent national polling results with each dot representing a different poll conducted by a different pollster at a different time, but the data could also represent the results from different polling divisions but from a particular election or pollster. In this case, because of the spread of the dots, it should be the former. Do you have a word for "polls" (as in pollsters) to differentiate it from polling divisions?
Posted by: Kaiser | Sep 21, 2021 at 12:27 PM
The dot plot appears to be polls as in pollsters, yes. Polls as in polling divisions is very jargon-y and I doubt most people encounter the term other than on election night, when the preliminary results for a riding would be relayed as something like "72/234 polls reporting" (rather than 31% of the vote counted). Outside of that specific context, a "poll" would be taken to mean an opinion poll or survey.
If I had a suggestion for Stephen it would be to show the same pop-up panel with the list of candidates and the donut chart on the riding level map, showing the results from that riding, before the user clicks on a polling division, to make it more clear that the polling divisions are only a small part of a whole rather than an independent result.
Posted by: A Canadian Reader | Sep 21, 2021 at 04:37 PM