More than an outcome: Iowa Caucus 2016

From “Iowa Caucus Results” by Wilson Andrews, Matthew Bloch, Jeremy Bowers and Tom Giratikanon for The New York Times

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“Entire Nation Remembers Iowa Exists” is what I imagine headlines the front page of satirical news site The Onion following this week’s Iowa Presidential Caucus. As humorous as it sounds, the joke rings true for one main reason: most Americans probably don’t know much about their own state, much less a random one in 50.

But the data pulled from Iowa on February 1 is greater than winner and loser, and this hidden gem of value requires a grasp of Iowa that extends beyond what the average American knows or cares to Google search.

Questions like “Are most of Hillary’s Iowan supporters considered higher income?”, “Do Iowans in cities vote differently than those in rural areas?”, and “What does any of this mean?” are just a few examples of what the results could tell us, and what their answers offer is a greater understanding of what is happening in the 2016 Presidential Election.

The tricky mix of context, visualization, and clarity that this data demands is exactly what makes the New York Times “Iowa Caucus Results” so brilliant.

In sixteen images and succinct descriptions, the publication manages to illustrate the results of the Iowa Caucus with key factors in mind: population, income, religion (Republicans), age (Democrats), and comparison to previous presidential elections. From here, readers can see which candidates came out on top with these considerations in mind. Percentages give clear presentation, while circles corresponding in size to share of the total percentage and in color to the candidates illustrate the data in a visually appealing way. If the New York Times’s goal was to breakdown the Iowa Caucus results in a captivating, approachable and educational format, they succeed.

Of course, to the New York Times audience, this sort of analysis isn’t new– it’s expected. Their national audience consists mostly of well-educated, middle-aged, relatively well-off readers who can follow these sort of graphics with ease. However, the beauty of data is that with the right communication, it may challenge readers on their preconceived ideas. This presentation leaves the truth of the numbers clear. For example, as a college student witnessing the rise of Bernie Sanders across teenage social media, I expected that Bernie Sanders won college students by a landslide on Monday night, but the graphic clearly tells me this is not the case. If Bernie Sanders were my candidate of choice, this might prompt me to take up campaigning for Bernie Sanders among my fellow college students–to act. Even if he weren’t my candidate of choice, this realization begs analysis, thought and even more questions (“Why?” being one, for example).

Simply put, this presentation works.

Hopefully, we won’t forget Iowa before the 2020 caucus comes around. But hey–if we do, at least we can count on the New York Times to fill us in.