If data journalism were a religion, national elections in a democracy would be its biggest festival. Never ever does mainstream media get so obsessed with data, data analysis and “deriving insights from data”, as it does during the elections season.
In India, the efforts stands out even more, as otherwise, there is very little data that journalists care about. Sure, the heavy economic parameters such as GDP growth or growth in industrial production are regular features in business media, but few normal people even glance through them; not even those who otherwise consumer regular business and corporate news. The only category of people who have some fascination for numbers are the ardent cricket fans who follow cricket statistics.
What adds both color and complexity to the elections data in India is the country’s diversity: in its demographics, in issues and not to forget number of national and regional parties.
Color, quite literally. Just contrast, in your mind, two visualizations, a pie with two colors representing Democrats and Republicans and another having at least 7-8 colors, representing BJP, Congress, AIADMK, TMC, BJD, Shiv Sena, TDP, TRS…you can drag it if you like.
With so many parties fighting it out, the vote share that each gets and how that translates into seats is recommended study for those wanting to understand paradoxes. Add to that so many ways you can analyze the data: party-wise, region-wise, state-wise, constituency-wise, reserved constituency-wise, in terms of which party is ruling the state…and so on
Last week was that once-in-a-five-year festival. The Election results came on 16 May.
Not surprisingly, every TV channels, every newspaper or every online new portal worth its name had a dedicated data analysis section on its website. Here are links to a few among major media brands in India.
- The Economic Times: The top business newspaper in India and one of the largest in Asia, has a old-fashioned tabular representation of the results. Of course, with so many other elements and ads, it is also extremely cluttered.
- Firstpost: A sleek site, great for those getting deeper into their own analysis. Scores on presentation, breadth of coverage, comprehensiveness, with fairly good ease of use. The only negative: it is a little intimidating for many.
- The Hindu: Often hailed as the only general newspaper that is actively into data journalism, The Hindu’s election data page disappoints, despite having functionality. It is not at all intuitive; all that you are greeted with is a map of India.
- The Hindustan Times: It has sleekness of design, all the functionality, and a fairly clean page. Yet, it is not intuitive to use. But the best among all major general newspapers.
- IBN Live: Another cluttered site, with a tabular representation of overall results, in sharp contrast to the group site, Firstpost.
- India Today: A simple, clean website. Almost a clone of NDTV site, with the same way of visualization. But it is not as good in terms of presentation and even functionality
- Mint: Mint, clearly well ahead of any other media in India, when it comes to data journalism, disappointed. That too after advertising heavily about its election coverage.
- NDTV: By far the simplest presentation, strictly focused on election results and nothing else. Scores on ease to use as well as presentation
- The Times of India: The Times of India clearly decided to play up the news and pushed the data to the bottom of the page. It had a simple, easy to understand format but with no functionality to drill down further.
Apart from the result coverage, there have been some interesting analyses of results by some of these media brands. Especially noteworthy is this analysis in Mint which creates a sweep index.
This chart, which calculates the seat share based on individual parties’ vote share, had there been proportional representation, has drawn a lot of criticism, both from the supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party as well as from supporters of regional parties such as Biju Janata Dal, which swept their own states but whose shares of votes in the national votes cast is small. On the other hand, parties such as BSP , which drew a blank but have a fairly high vote share distributed all across tend to gain from this. Many have used this as an example to attack data journalism per se.
But it must be noted that it is not data journalism that is at fault here. The analysis is at odds with the reality of diversity in India and the framework of federated structure with provision for regional parties. A state like Odisha, in this method, will have one/two representatives in the Lok Sabha.
At the time of writing this, interesting insights based on analysis of data is still coming in. We will report anything interesting that comes in, either here or through our Twitter handle @datajournoin.