State gun laws

January 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

guns in america

The federal government enforces a few basic gun laws: you generally can’t have a machine gun or a silencer; you can’t buy a gun if you are crazy, you are a gun addict or have been convicted of a major crime; and you have to submit to a background check before you plunk down your money on a shiny Smith & Wesson. Beyond that, it’s up to the states to say whether you can conceal a gun, own super-size magazines or buy a bunch of rifles at once.

You face a mighty challenge sorting out these state laws for your readers with an infographic. I’ve found that the best way is to select your topic first—say, background checks at gun shows—and then compile a list of which states regulate it and to what degree. I used to get this info from The Brady Campaign, but then I discovered that they get their material from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Law Center keeps very good, up-to-date lists of state gun laws. You can find them here: http://smartgunlaws.org/search-gun-law-by-gun-policy/

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Political prediction market

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment


President Barack Obama has a 51% chance of being elected, according to the Intrade market, in which bettors buy and sell shares that pay off if their predictions are correct. How accurate is the collective wisdom of the market on political matters? More accurate than political pundits, according to the Washington Post and the New York times. http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/24/bettors-beat-pundits/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/does-intrade-matter-political-betting-explained/2011/10/12/gIQAHqpdhL_blog.html
While the Intrade market has been a more accurate barometer than public opinion polls, its data only occasionally gets used in news graphics, such as the New York Times chart above.

To read Intrade data as a percentage, you just convert the dollar amount so that, for instance, $6.70 is 6.7%.

In addition to a market on Obama’s chances, Intrade has odds on each GOP presidential candidate, House, Senate and Governors’ races, and whom Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint will endorse.

Historical election results

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

This scatterplot from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times (http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/on-the-maddeningly-inexact-relationship-between-unemployment-and-re-election/) suggests there is no correlation between unemployment and a president’s re-election chances. I haven’t seen many news charts that set out to show a lack of correlation, but in this case it’s compelling. I also haven’t seen many scatterplots where the horizonal axis sits in the middle of the chart rather than the bottom, but it worked here and you can follow the chart easily.

While this is a great chart, what I really want to point out is the source of the election results. (This is Seth’s Sources after all!) Rather than the Federal Election Commission or Politics in America or whatnot, they come from David Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (http://uselectionatlas.org/) When I first stumbled onto this source many years ago, I thought it was too homegrown and unofficial to use as a primary source. My opinion changed quickly. That’s the crazy thing about the Internet: someone who begins a Web site as an enthusiast or hobbyist can end up building a more complete, accurate and useful set of data than anything offered by the government or major publishers. Time and again, media organizations turn to David Leip’s atlas for historical election stats.

The atlas provides stats back to 1789. In addition to standard vote counts, you can get the size of the voting age population, turnout as a percentage of voting age population or registered voters, number of invalid ballots and a number of other statistics.

Circles of influence

November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

For years, the Washington Post has produced “inner circle” charts that portray the individuals surrounding powerful political figures, such as President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now Republican Leader John Boehner.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/boehners_world/

The diagrams show levels of influence as concentric rings, and categories, such as staff or college classmates, as wedges of the circle. The graphics reporter assembling the diagram needs a deep knowledge of the politician in order to assign a level of influence to each associate. The connections and coalitions are equally hard to arrange and often require reliable sources near to the politician to help with the placement.

The final trick is to get photographs of the dozens of people in the diagram, many of whom may be obscure despite their connections to powerful people.

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