Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Norwich North: Bar charts, again

Some of you must share my compulsive obsessive disorder about graphs. The law of averages says so. That means there's a sporting chance that some of you at least will be interested in this selection of graphs from the current Norwich North by election.

It's all jolly exciting as each and every bar chart uses accurate figures and, I'm willing to bet, is basically in proportion. I know! How like was that to happen?

Of course, they all use completely different data sets of varying relevance -but here goes (sadly Labour seem to be eschewing the bar charts, which is probably understandable because they did hold the seat and therefore want to give the impression that they are the only party in existence).

First we have UKIP's graph. In its favour it has the advantage of being the most recent election available. It's also no surprise that UKIP choose the European elections as this is the only election in which anyone actually votes for them in numbers.

The other problem is that it takes the figures for the Eastern Region as a whole and then say Labour, Lib Dems and 'others' have no chance of winning in Norwich North. Seeing as UKIP came fifth in Norwich in the Euros the claim being made actually bears no relation to the facts. Surely it's just silly to say that Labour "has no chance of winning" a seat that it held until until the incumbent stepped down?

Also the idea that UKIP is the 'official opposition' when they have no elected representatives in Norwich also seems to be a victory of the political imagination over solid analysis. Are we to take the word 'official' in the phrase 'official opposition' seriously? If so in what sense is their opposition status 'official'?

This isn't dishonest maths it's just a display of a complete inability to demonstrate they are capable of a political understanding that bears a relationship to the real world. I'm willing to bet that UKIP will come fifth, or worse, and if they do the fact they've portrayed themselves as second to Labour and the official opposition will simply feed into the idea that they are a party of people who don't know their elbow from their nether regions.

This second one is from the Tories. In its favour it is actually a comparison with the last time the parliamentary seat was up for grabs and as such is a perfectly reasonable set of figures. Again not dishonest in the least and whilst the political landscape has changed a great deal since the last General Election in Norwich I think it would be difficult to see this as an attempt to mislead voters.

However, I would take issue with this "can't win here" business again. As it happens I don't think UKIP, Greens or Lib Dems will win - but can't isn't just too strong it isn't true. No votes have been cast as yet and upsets do happen. I'm fairly confident that the Tories will win but other parties could win, you never know.

Everyone knows that the political landscape in Norwich has shifted significantly in Norwich over the last five years. That 3% for the Greens is the accurate 2005 figure, few people think that the Greens will poll so low this time round.

Now we come to the Lib Dems. Once again this has the advantage of being a recent result, additionally unlike the UKIP graph it represents how people have voted in first past the post elections and is therefore a far more reasonable kind of figure to use in this kind of circumstance.

However, whilst UKIP stretched the figures by using the Eastern region to represent the good voters of Norwich North, the Lib Dems have taken their reputation for audacity to a new level and used figures from the entire country. Is this the most credible set of stats the Lib Dems could find? Well yes, because the local facts say that the Lib Dems are likely to come third or fourth, which isn't a great message for them.

My problem with this chart is not that it's dishonest - it isn't, they clearly label what the bar chart represents - but that it bears a scant relationship to the election. Once the voting is over and people chuck these in the recycle bin are voters not likely to notice that the Lib Dems have rather over egged their pudding, undermining future claims?

Having said that unlike the Tories or UKIP they have not claimed that other parties "can't win here" when they (potentially) can. It's a welcome development and long may that continue.

I don't have access to Green Party literature so don't know if we're wheeling out bar graphs or not but thought I'd knock up a couple myself just to demonstrate what we could produce if we were so inclined. I didn't spend anytime making them pretty - but they are accurate.

The figures above represent how the people in Norwich (as a whole) voted in the recent European elections. Notice it looks rather different to UKIP's version of the same election - but then that's because UKIP are far stronger in the region than they are in Norwich itself. UKIP's 12% is, of course, still good (not that they'll get that at the by election) but under first past the post fifth is a long way short of winning.

The Greens, you might note, came top and it's a fact that anyone who lives in Norwich will already be aware of. If there was a single Norwich seat the Greens would win it. Sadly there isn't and most of our support is concentrated in the south which must make Mr Charles Clarke MP blanch with fear when he thinks of his oncoming doom.

Personally I wouldn't recommend using this chart simply because it makes it look like we think we'll win which would undermine our claims when we actually are in that position as voters would think 'oh, we've heard this before'.

The other disadvantage of using these figures is that it shows the way people voted in a proportional representation election which probably doesn't easily map onto how people vote under first past the post. So, I've drawn up this as an alternative;

Here we have the ultimate combo. The most recent election - the County Councils - and this time PR isn't distorting the results. This time I thought I'd show the number of county councillors won in Norwich in June. You see that big column? That's the Greens. This is 100% true.

Again this isn't Norwich North alone - only the Tories have used those figures - and I don't actually recommend any of these bar graphs as useful guides to what is going to happen at the by election. But I thought it would be interesting to show that the same election can produce massively different bar charts all using accurate figures.

Which means we can't just use pretty pictures to guide our understanding of what is likely to happen. However, what is useful and interesting is how inaccurate a Party's propaganda is compared to the actual results. My prediction is that the UKIP graphs will look the most ludicrous the day after the election.

h/t Norfolk Blogger and Cath Elliot for some of this info.


Stuart Jeffery said...

Jim, Graphs 1 to 3 are dishonest as they deliberately misrepresent the proportions. In each case the distance between first and second is shown to be smaller than it really is to give an impression of an "it's us or them race".

Jim Jay said...

You know what Stuart - you're absolutely right.

weggis said...

It's OCD - "obsessive compulsive disorder".
What you've got is COD, which is a whole different kettle of fish.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks Weggis - you made me spurt tea out my nose reading that comment :)

Strategist said...

Jim and Greens everywhere, I've just sent this letter to Rupert Read and all the Norwich Green Party councillors about Craig Murray's exclusion from tonight's hustings being organised by the University & College Union. You don't have to agree with Craig Murray to think he has earned a hearing; I hope people can support this.

Dear Rupert and Norwich Green Party councillors

As you may know, Craig Murray, your rival candidate in the Norwich North by-election, has been excluded from this evening's UCU hustings event on manifestly unjust grounds - a poll taken before his candidacy was known. The letter below has been sent to UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt and all UCU national and regional officers, so far without even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.

Obviously Craig is your rival candidate but his basic platform is one all Greens will recognise: if we want change and want to clean up corruption, we cannot rely on the mainstream parties to do it. It is a platform that any voter may or may not agree with, but hopefully all Greens will agree that there is a democratic principle that the platform deserves at least to be heard at hustings.

Craig is currently subject to a national and local media blackout, because of his status as a whistleblower about the British Government's complicity in torture. The question is whether UCU want to be part of that blackout, or part of the process of undermining it. Whether the University & College Union is about defending free speech and democracy or about defending the establishment and its ingrained corruption.

Therefore I am asking you and the Green Party to think bigger than the slim political advantages to be gained from having a place at the hustings when Craig does not, and to walk out of the event publicly and loudly if Craig is not allowed to speak. Believe me, this will win you more goodwill amongst those everywhere who cherish a free democracy than anything you will gain by attending a boring, bureaucratically-rigged event.

Jim Jay said...

I don't know how much good it does you but I agree that Craig should be allowed to speak and he has many interesting things to say.

Do you know which candidates were invited?

Strategist said...

Jim, it was the Tories, LibDems, NuLab and the Greens. I have no information yet as to how it went earlier this evening.