Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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Fly me to the (blue) moon

In Politics on May 12, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , , , , , ,

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The General Election finally delivered its much expected verdict. As feared or hoped by many, we ended up with a hung Parliament, with no political party enjoying the required majority of seats at the House of Commons. The lockout of the early days ended when the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats reached a full five year coalition deal. Amongst other agreements, LibDem leader Nick Clegg is to become the country’s ninth deputy PM. Forced to thorough negotiations to secure a stable majority, the Tories granted the Yellows with five ministerial departments.

Two-headed government : N.Clegg and D.Cameron

In what seems like a shotgun wedding for some, further issues remain to be tackled to achieve intelligent leadership. At the centre of all attentions is the electoral reform. To make a long story short, Clegg has repeatedly called for the current FPTP system to be amended. According to the Take Back Parliament campaign, the FPTP process questions the whole issue of democratic elections, for the majority will of the people may not be reflected in the electoral outcome.

My Fair MP : The Take Back Parliament Movement
The Electoral Reform Society advocates three different voting systems that would incorporate a form of proportional representation :

A geographical breakdown would clearly help us grasp the issues at stake. The data presented here has been gathered from the Guardian Datablog. What would have been the outcome of the late general elections should a more proportional system have been implemented ?

Click on the image to access the interactive visualization (hosted on Tableau Public) :

We created another visualization that aims to grasp the crucial impact a voting system can have on the election outcome.

At a glance, one can notice that the Conservatives almost invariably obtain the best scores under the current FPTP system than under any other process. One can thus understand their reluctance to switch. Conversely, the LibDems would consistently increase their seats under any more proportional voting system, especially with a Single Transferable Vote (STV). The number of seats gathered by the Labour would vary by region and electoral system, yet a more proportional system would only show one way : down.

Note that this simulation assumes that votes cast on May 6th would have been ‘first preferences’. All political considerations aside, one can only acknowledge a significantly different make-up of the Parliament, had another system been implemented. Despite no region witnessing a change of majority, the LibDems would for instance see their overall representation increase dramatically.

Its most fervent supporters have long been told that a more proportional system could only happen ‘once in a blue moon’. As the spirit of coalition is in the air, could the colour of David Cameron’s tie be the much awaited sign?

FX.

Articles

Gordon Brown steps down as Labour leader

In Politics on May 10, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , ,

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London – 5.09 GMT

Mr Brown says he has “no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure that the path to economic growth is secured” and the route is paved for political reform. He says he will ask his party to launch a leadership contest and will play no part in it – expecting a new leader to be in place around the time of the Labour conference in September.

More at BBC live coverage

Articles

It’s the media wot swung it, officer

In Politics on May 3, 2010 by datanamics

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The news that has dominated the headlines was that The Sun withdrew its 12 year long support for Labour, and now cheers for the Tories. In the midst of a very hard-fought election, the turnaround of Britain’s best selling daily newspaper could only spark speculations..

Versatile support... The Sun

All causality considerations aside, data shows that whatever party supported by the Sun during any campaign since the 70s eventually won the General Elections. No matter, replied Labour deputy Harriet Harman, who does not believe that newspapers wield that much of an influence at the ballot box : “We will not be bullied. This underdog is biting back.” After all, in the solitude of the voting booth, it is the British people, not editors in chief, that would decide the election.

So do media moguls really hold the power to influence the popular vote? Can a newspaper dramatically shape the outcome of an election, or does it merely reflect the concerns of its readers in the light of topical issues ? Central to the understanding of politics, this questions requires a thorough social study that the following visualizations do not pretend to match. The bottom line is we have attempted to introduce the print media landscape along with its somewhat versatile endorsements..

All data hereby presented was provided by the excellent Guardian Datablog. As usual, data appears to be a powerful way to shed new light on a much scrutinized issue. Find here the original database.

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This year, most of the circulating paper endorses the Tories in a overwhelming fashion. As I write these lines, the only newspaper to have displayed an unconditional support for the Labour is the Daily Mirror. Which is no match to its declining circulation level..

In the Red Zone... The Mirror

Meanwhile, many papers have recently switched their allegiance to the Conservatives. First in line, the Sun and the Times, both property of News Corporation. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s titles have shifted their traditional pro-Labour endorsement, thus boosting the Tories coverage in British media. In the meantime, the traditional pro-conservative support provided by the Telegraph, the Express and the Daily Mail has gone unchallenged. .

Teaming up for the Tories : The Telegraph and The Times

In the aftermath of Gordon Brown’s ‘bigot’ painful gaffe, the Guardian has also turned its back on the current tenant of 10, Downing Street. In its latest editorial, the newspaper claims that the Liberal moment has come, displaying its wish to cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats.

The party led by Nick Clegg enjoys an ever-increasing media support. It is widely believed that the first TV debate gave the Lib Dems their time to shine, therefore denying the Tories a much desired clear majority. Nick Clegg’s rise actually puts the traditional media coverage system into question. Historically, it appears that the yellow party has been scarcely backed up by the nation’s top newspapers.  Often edged off the papers’ editorials, the Lib Dem were seen as the ‘invisible party’, to quote Guardian columnist David Yelland. The Lib Dems gathered more than 22% of the popular vote in the 2005 election, a performance that can hardly remain unnoticed. Yet, they were denied the possibilty to secure more than 62 MPs out of the 646 seats available at the House of Commons. Beyond the level of media support, the explanation mostly lies in the two-party system existing in Britain. Therefore, Clegg sees this year a huge opportunity to reform the electoral process and embrace a genuine proportional system.

Filling the coverage gap... The Guardian

Keeping this issue in mind, it appears that only 6 out of the 17 post-war general elections witnessed the victory of a party not backed up by the majority of national newspapers. Find here the original database.

In the last thirty years, the correlation between newspapers’ main support and the outcome of the election has been getting steadier. Find here the original database..

Still, what is written in the columns of a newspaper cannot be equated with what is going on in the privacy of a voting booth. After all, the vote is up to the citizens, not the papers, I reckon. Therefore, one must analyze the breakdown of reader voting and the editorial line adopted by their newspapers. Fortunately, it comes out that readers are able to demonstrate their own critical thinking, therefore not necessarily voting as advised by their favorite paper.

Find here the original database.

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Epilogue.

Dear Guardian Data Blog,

We took you up on your offer and tried to create the most comprehensive visualization from the database you provided. Do newspaper merely reflect or spark  political trends amongst its readers? The question remains hanging.

In this particular case, the finest empirical data in the world will fail to explanate the complexity of sociological interactions that create political support. For that purpose, it would be fascinating to analyze the turnaround of newspapers’ support in the light of factors such as unemployement rate or inflation. In other words, bring on more data to fiddle with!

FX.

Articles

Data takes to the street !

In Politics on May 2, 2010 by datanamics

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Seen on the BBC website:

Tower of Power : A Mock Up of the Projection

‘The results of the general election are to be projected on to St Stephen’s Tower, which houses Big Ben, for the first time, by the BBC. The number of seats won by the three largest Westminster parties will be updated over the course of the night. The images, illustrating the state of the parties, will be beamed from the moment the first result is declared until about 0530 BST the next morning. The BBC said it was “delighted” with the initiative.

The Parliament has joined the BBC in this endeavour to project the election results onto the most famous tower of the House. This is the first time such projection is organized in Britain.

A small step for data…

Articles

The Good, the Sad and the Nerdy

In Politics on April 22, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I do hope that most of you have paid attention to the first British election debate held last week on national television. The leaders of the three main parties were invited to discuss questions asked by a sample of British citizens and selected beforehand by broadcasters.
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A fortnight before the main event, a set of 76 detailed rules were announced, to prevent from any kind of uneven treatment. Just like for any other political live debate, the issue of airtime was most crucial. Besides, I found it worthy of interest that the audience was carefully selected in order not to favour a political party over the other two.  It was ensured that at least 80% of them declared a voting intent, with the final selection to ensure a ratio of 7:7:5 between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters. Those showing a voting preference for minor parties (Green, BNP, UKIP) were represented as well.
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Many issues were addressed in this first electoral debate : Education, Immigration, Law and Order, NHS, Family, Defence… The full house, pretty much. But data, Internet, that we didn’t have. It wasn’t much of a surprise though, to be honest. It is likely that average Joes don’t care much about the wonders of database journalism that lie ahead of us. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t believe that the candidates are not fully aware of the issue, and the political interest at stake.
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Mark my words:who will best tackle the data issue?

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LABOUR PARTY
Gordon Brown, if not the coolest-looking lad in town, was actually the first one to embrace the data gathering process. Beyond mere lip service, the Scot launched in January a gateway for UK government statistics – data.gov.uk – with the cooperation of the Godfather of Web Tim Berners-Lee. An digital offer you can’t refuse, I suppose. Data held so far by public bodies was made available to download for crime, environment or health related queries. At launch, Data.gov.uk had nearly 3,000 data sets available for developers to build mashups with, ReadWriteWeb reveals. Using Sparql queries, the project is a milestone in the UK transparency movement.
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The project follows the footsteps of Where Does My Money Go, an interactive visualization tool based on data retrieved from the HM Treasury in late 2009.
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Da-tax heaven : “Where Does My Money Go ?”
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Labour Manifesto :
View here the Manifesto set by Gordon Brown for this General Election.
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Quote:  “Citizens expect their public services to be transparent, interactive and easily accessible. We will open up government, embedding access to information and data into the very fabric of public services. Citizens should be able to compare local services, demand improvements, choose between providers, and hold government to account.” (page 65)
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Grade : A+, for championing the devolution of energy on this issue. Data-based technologies are seen as a powerful tool to help people access knowledge.
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Top Words : Labour Manifesto Deciphered (source : Guardian Datablog)

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CONSERVATIVE PARTY
On their side, the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, have committed themselves to further government data unlocking, should they be elected. As underlined by Simon Rogers, from the Guardian Datablog, their promises include :
• Publish all government datasets in full or online
• Legislate to create a right to government data
• Publish ultra-local data on crime, health and education
• Publish every item of local and government and quango expenditure over £25,000, plus every project that receives EU funds
• Publish all procurement tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000
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This implies going beyond the Labour’s already substantial offer. For example, a database such as Where Does My Money Go would go through a solid makeover. What is now taking hours of raw data collecting would be available in the blink of an eye :
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In The Now : UK Public Spending Unleashed by The Guardian Datablog

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In the aftermath of the MP expenses scandal and the unauthorized publication of detailed expenditure, full data unlocking is far from granted. Shadow chancellor George Osborne has already promised to make available the Treasury Coins database, the confidential detailed analysis of departmental expenditure. However, there remain significant hurdles before this happens. The Treasury opposes this request as long as intellectual property rights and commercial confidentiality are not guaranteed. On a technical side, it is unlikely the 23 millions line of raw data will be turned into self-speaking, breath-taking visualizations overnight.
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Conservatives Manifesto :
View here the Manifesto set by David Cameron for this General Election.
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Quote: “We will publish details of the money government spends and the people it employs. People will have a right to government data to make the performance of the state transparent. We will cut the unaccountable quango state and root out waste.” (page 169)
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Grade : B, for the obvious willingness to make change happen, despite a slight lack of technical guidelines.
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Top Words : Conservative Manifesto Deciphered (source : Guardian Datablog)

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LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PARTY
Last in line, but ahead in the polls, the Liberal Democrats gave little indication of what they have up their sleeve for the UK technology industry. The party led by Nick Clegg acknowledges the need for government services to share more of their data, insisting on social and health services and the police.
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However, the  manifesto dramatically lacks technical details on how to proceed. Likewise, it is not revealed whether or not the sharing of data should be underpinned by a central IT system.  In the meantime, the party has repeatedly criticised the government’s record on privacy, and made references to plans to strengthen the Data Protection Act.
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LibDem Manifesto
View here the Manifesto set by Nick Clegg for this General Election.
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Quote: “Liberal Democrats will protect and restore your freedoms. We will (…) scrap the intrusive ContactPoint database which is intended to hold the details of every child in England.” (page 94)
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Grade : C, for their lack of actual involvement in the issue, therefore failing to fully grasp how data unleashing could serve their purpose of “Building a Fairer Britain”.
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Top Words : Lib Dems Speech Deciphered (source Blogreuters.com)

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FX.

Articles

Biggie biggie biggie, can’t you see…

In Politics on April 16, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , , , , , , ,

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Discover a very insightful data-based project led by Richard Saul Wurman, the TED conferences founder and chairman. A prominent graphic designer, Wurman dedicated most of his work to making information understandable for all. Lit up with a genuine passion for geography, the man with a plan wrote over 80 books, including 22 city guides and atlases.

Richard Saul Wurman

His latest piece of work, the 19-20-21 Super city project, happens to satisfy this endeavour. This interactive vizualisation analyzes 19 of the cities of the world that will shelter more than 20 million people by the end of the 21st century. Beyond a catchy title, the project aims to shed light on the unprecedented mass urbanization and its impact on the environment and people.

The mentioned cities, from LA to Jakarta, are chosen as case studies exploring the impact of this population phenomenon. A striking mutation: in 1900, 150 million people lived in urban areas vs 3 billion as I type these words. The figures are expected to reach the 2/3 of the global population by 2050. Hence dramatic shifts to be considered in terms of urban and health policies.

“While some say the world is flat, supercities are rising – vast, intensely urban hubs will radically redefine the world’s future macroeconomic and cultural landscape. Most of the world’s population right now lives and works in cities. Many more will. It’s critical to gain a truer understanding of what’s happening: the rise of supercities is the defining megatrend of the 21st century.”  (Richard Saul Wurman).

Facing a potentially dire situation, the countries of the world can no longer maintain a free-for-all scheme, and should rather come together and reflect on common issues, the study reveals. Many issues are at stake,  such as global warming, fishing or the rise of sea waters. The reshuffle of  the decision making power is the promise of both challenges and opportunities ahead.

“A Globe of Water”

"A Greener Globe"

Hence another power of database journalism : the ability to spark powerful vizualisation, while words struggle to reach out to us when the going gets tough.

Whistleblower : the White Rabbit

“Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late !” shrieked the White Rabbit, upstarting. We all know that database journalism is all about storytelling. As a matter of fact, if this 19-20-21 vizualisation was to tell a story, it would probably be Alice in Wonderland, I reckon. Remember, when Alice meets up with the White Rabbit, she becomes trapped in his house after growing too large. World cities are growing, too. The clock is ticking. Let’s not get trapped in Underland.

FX.

Articles

Rule, data, data rule the waves…

In Politics on April 14, 2010 by datanamics Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

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Having lived for some time in the United Kingdom, I am always paying extra attention when it comes to political events occurring in good ole Britannia. In the midst of this General Election year, there is plenty of information to gather here and there and we are certainly not running out of data to analyse voting trends.

On your mark, set... : PM candidates G. Brown, D. Cameron, N. Clegg

Months before the outcome, it was agreed that the 2010 general Elections will use a new constituency boundaries system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland the boundaries will be the same as 2005. After the election, there will be 650 seats in the House of Commons, four more than the 646 delimited so far. In partisan terms, the new areas give a net benefit to the Conservatives, an official report from the British Parliament revealed. If the 2005 election had been fought on the reshuffled boundaries, the Conservatives would have gained around 12 additional seats and Labour seven fewer. Hence the many potential outcomes generated and the crucial importance of swing voting.
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On Monday, April 5th, the Guardian website provided a visualization of the potential outcomes for the upcoming election.
As explained by Jonathan from Flowing Data, a grid map, a dynamic geographic map and a bar chart allow the visitor to explore the different scenarios of constituencies changing hands.
The swingometer simulates voters moving from one of the three main parties (Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems). It also simulates positions in which there is a general shift from one party to the other two, including where, for instance, a large number of people abandon Labour for the Conservatives and a smaller number for the Lib Dems. Options are the following:
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The digital edition of the Telegraph also offers a visualization of the new constituencies with a dynamic political map, aimed to grasp the issues at stake. The map makes it clear that at least a 6,9% swing is necessary for David Cameron (Conservative party) to settle down at 10 Downing Street. Yet it is suspected that the Telegraph’s chief editor would endorse this outcome ASAP, is such a turnaround realistic for the Tories ? What is the trend like ?

Swing in previous General Elections

Back in 2005. The Labour party, led by incumbent PM Tony Blair, wins the UK general election with 35.3% of the popular British vote. The Conservative Party of Welsh-born Michael Howard is just a few points behind with 32.3% of the votes. However, the constituency system endows the Labour with a significant majority with 356 parliamentary seats as opposed to the 198 seats for the conservative party.

2005 election map

Therefore, David Cameron’s party needs a uniform Lab-Con turnaround to win and reach the 326 (50% +1) seats required for a conservative overall majority. Data show that only two general elections since 1979 have witnessed a swing exceeding 5% from party to another. However, since the 1997 Labour landslide victory was the result of a Con-Lab 10,2%  swing, it would be tricky to rule out an identical scenario. Needless to say, the experience of hung parliament is far from common in the UK, with only one example to date in 1974, following a remarkable status quo (-0,8%) in general election swings.

Poll figures
tend to acknowledge the fact that the Tories are about to win their first election since John Major. However, although David Cameron is riding ahead by about 10 points, his 18 points advance from last summer show that the race is getting tighter and the outcome remains uncertain. Many newspapers, such as the Guardian or the Independent, highlight that Gordon Brown still has a fighting chance, backed up with one of Labour’s best ICM ratings since December 2008.
FX.