Democracy on the ground

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

This map of House election results from the New York Times dramatically conveys the state of democracy on the ground.  Because the entire House stands for election every two years, the results express the state of local sentiment better than Senate elections can.

The map does not correct for population density, so one must bear in mind that some of the vast red areas represent relatively few people.  Still, it’s sobering to contemplate the restricted appeal of a Democratic ethos.  Just think of all the Americans, living in all the varied settings pictured on this map, to whom Democratic party principles no longer appeal.  Democratic strength is extremely limited geographically, whereas, as David Brooks points out, it’s hard to deny that Republican conservatism represents the mainstream.  It’s ironic, because red regions contain many people who use and benefit from the sorts of programs and services that Democrats perennially champion and defend.  Well-being is not all that drives people to the polls.

The Democratic Party’s ethos no longer resonates with such voters culturally.  Instead, the party has become identified mainly with the coastal and urban regions where more educated people tend to gather.  Looking at this map, it’s easy to understand why ‘mainstream’ Americans resent the undue influence that urban elites exercise through the media.

Many Democrats I know, convinced of the morality and truth of their views, do not see a need to proselytize.  I once asked a liberal friend why she didn’t volunteer to canvas in Democratic campaigns, and she said, “I guess it’s because I’m right—and I think that, if other people can’t see that, there’s nothing I can do.”  It’s a shame, because the Democratic Party is becoming irrelevant to a huge natural constituency of small-town and working-class Americans who are just getting by.  In those broad regions where Democratic leaders are giving up, an important strain of political culture may one day die.

The Enduring Republican Grip on the House (NYT)

The Shape of the Post-Recession Economy

How the Recession Reshaped the Economy by the New York Times (snapshot of graphic)


For those interested in the condition of the US economy, I highly recommend the detailed set of interactive graphics that the New York Times published online yesterday.  CLICK ON THE IMAGE OR HERE TO VIEW.  The graphics compile data on almost all the private-sector jobs in today’s economy, depicting how each of 255 sectors has fared since the economic downturn and giving figures for the average pay in each sector and the total number of jobs lost or gained.

Every time I see graphics of this quality, I wonder why the US government is incapable of producing statistical summaries that are as timely and as accessible to ordinary people.  While the government collects an enormous amount of data on almost every aspect of our economy and society, its performance is terrible when it comes to making facts about our country readily available on the internet for everyday use.

Many thanks to Jeremy Ashkenas and Alicia Parlapiano of the New York Times for designing a set of statistical representations that are so beautiful, informative, and easy to read.

The graphics show which sectors of the economy have recovered or never suffered a loss.  Others are newly created and growing (e.g. electronic shopping).  The oil and natural-gas sector, with many high-paying jobs, is growing great guns.  Yet others like air transportation and many sectors relating to homes and home-building are continuing to suffer and even decline.  The recession also accelerated the decline of certain ailing parts of the economy (such as traditional print media).  Overall, it seems obvious that the recession coincided with other major shifts in the economy, such as those caused by globalism and technological developments like the digital revolution.

Help Understanding the Budget

I have trouble thinking about the federal budget.  The numbers are too big.  I have pretty good math ability, so if I have trouble with it, I suspect a lot of other people do, too.  Maybe even many of our legislators in Congress!  (I would not want to be on the budget committee.)

So I was really glad to find this cool interactive graphic on the New York Times website showing President Obama’s proposed budget for 2013.  The graphic shows all the huge and tiny (relatively tiny that is–even a tiny part of the budget can have $1 billion in funding) expenditures the government makes yearly.  The colors of the bubbles show the cuts and increases that are proposed.  There’s also an empty circle representing the size of the deficit we’re running, so you can see it in relation to the budget as a whole.

If you click on the buttons above the graph, the bubbles regroup to show the parts of spending that the budget can’t control.  Looking at the graph makes you realize that nearly 70 percent of our budget obligations are mandated, while 30 percent are discretionary.  It’s interesting to see that President Obama is asking that many discretionary parts of the budget be increased, instead of being frozen.  According to this article from US News, Congress has already established that it may run a deficit of up to $1.047 trillion in 2013.

I’m far from being a budget radical, but I can understand why people are in revolt about the size and complexity of the government’s activities.  When you move the cursor over this picture of the government and look at the different obscure programs and how much they cost, you do start to wonder whether they are all necessary.

Click here for the graphic discussed: Four Ways to Slice President Obama’s 2013 budget.

The Map of Federal Benefits

I stumbled on this fascinating map published yesterday on the New York Times website.  It’s a national map showing the distribution of all federal benefits to individuals–including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, and so on–by county, so that you can see which counties are most reliant on federal social spending.

What’s fascinating is that the highest levels of federal benefits are not where you might expect them to be.  They are not in cities.  In many cases, they are in “red” parts of the country.

The only way this map could be better is if it included farm subsidies.  I imagine they were excluded because they often go to corporate entities, and this is a map of benefits to individuals.  But because many prosperous commercial farmers in America benefit from this form of government support, it might be included to round out this picture of geographical reliance on federal aid.

Food for thought.