25 September, 2018

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Misleading Infographics: The Pernicious Influence Of US Election Coverage

By Rohan Samarajiva

Dr. Rohan Samarajiva

Dr. Rohan Samarajiva

Many people outside the US had great difficulty understanding the 2000 US Presidential Election. How could Al Gore have won more votes than George W. Bush but fail to be elected as the President of the United States? I remember telling people over and over again that the US does not have a single national election to see who will be President, but that according to their Constitution simultaneous elections are held in each of the states to elect members of an electoral college who in turn elect the President. In that system, it matters which candidate wins a state.

Infographics that color states red and blue on the basis of which political party win the state election highlight the fact that no single, national election is held. The infographics contribute to understanding and do not mislead.

The Second Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka introduced direct elections for the executive President. Here, we do not have an electoral college. Here, each vote is of equal value. Here, it makes absolutely no sense to make infographics using administrative district or electorate-level data, because gaining a majority of votes in those units has no bearing on the outcome of the election. In Sri Lanka, the entire country is one electoral district; each vote in the country is of equal value.

Pic | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_presidential_election,_2015

Pic | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_presidential_election,_2015

Infographics that mimic the US red-blue maps demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Sri Lankan political system. Some may be using them to challenge the legitimacy of the victor, but there are others who think the infographics are okay but are just being used badly. What they do not realize is that these infographics are a result of unthinkingly aping an artifact of US politics without understanding either the US system or the Sri Lankan system.

Constitutional change is on the agenda. If people want to dispense with direct Presidential election and elect a college of electors who will in turn choose a President they should so propose. The original US model, with all its flaws, is there to learn from. So is one of the more recent versions, the Myanmar Constitution. Here, the people vote for Members of Parliament (two chambers). The members of Parliament form the Electoral College that votes for the President and Vice Presidents. Then they go back to being members of the legislature. After we make this kind of change, any amount of colored maps can be developed and published without harm.

Until then, please do not impose the US system on Sri Lanka. Do not produce, publish or take seriously any infographic that shows majorities in any unit smaller than that of the entire country.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    Rohan Samarajiva –

    The original US model, with all its flaws, is there to learn from. So is one of the more recent versions, the Myanmar Constitution. “

    The US has a flawed Presidential System. It is about 230 years old.

    UDS also has an old inefficient measuring systems.

    They use pounds, gallons and inches and feet.

    The French Revolution came up with the metric System.

    Yes, US has still things to learn. So is Turkey that uses the old FPs system.

  • 6
    0

    Good one. The problematic part with this color coded pictograph (compared to US red and blue state) is that,it is inaccurate. In Sri Lanka there were multiple seats that MS won within the District where MR won. it is unlike in US the winner in SL doesn’t get the whole electoral votes for district. It is not only misleading but also unethical for the very reason that every single vote has the same value. But it gives the false idea that every seat in the South Sinhala strongholds were won by MR, For eg: Galle District significant number of seats were won by MS. This is actually a dishonest representation of two colored map to give the wings to the false idea(fear)of Sinhalease who voted/not voted for MR. This must be Charitha Herath and the co. political genius to downplay MS’s decisive win over MR. They wanted to cast doubt on sinhalease to grow mistrust amongst sri lankans. If they wanted to do an honest job they should have done a seat level wins to show how each candidate did islandwide and it would have depicted actual popularity of MS around the country.

    • 0
      0

      The map shows which candidate is the winner from the votes received in the smaller electoral divisions(parliamentary seats without the bonus seats)within the larger electoral districts. This is how the results are announced in the media. This clearly shows the popularity of each candidate and also to some extent the organizing capability and efficiency of the party organizers’ and support within the division. It is upto the reader to analyse this further if interested to find out the ethnic composition of these electoral divisions and get some idea how the mind of the voters behaved when casting his / her vote.

    • 0
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      pran

      ‘But it gives the false idea that every seat in the South Sinhala strongholds were won by MR, For eg: Galle District significant number of seats were won by MS ‘

      Kalutara District. 2 electorates voted for Matripala Sirisena. At other electorates, MR lost 10 points compared to Sarath Fonseka.

      Now, in this election, all the odds were stacked for the benefit of mR.

      Now if everybody had equal chance and equal time and opportunity, MS would have beaten RR by 75/25.

      Hold the elections 90 days from now after exposing the corruption, you will get that result.

  • 4
    0

    Rohan Samarajeeva,

    Thanks for highlighting this. I too found the Sri Lankan version of infographics irksome. They convey the wrong message. I do not know if it is ignorance in the part of the authors or simply the authors trying to make mischief as Pran above pointed out.

  • 6
    0

    Very nice explanation. The obvious next question is how best to graphically represent SL’s current voting so that it is not misleading. Any ideas?

  • 1
    0

    Land, farm and forest areas do not vote, people do. Especially people who were hurt and ashamed by the Rajapaksas.

  • 1
    0

    To add to points you have mentioned since each vote in each district has similar value, this map is misleading in one more way because it shows only landmass coverage, not the actual number of votes that land mass holds. For eg, Colombo, Kandy, Gampaha may look smaller compared to Wanni, nort, east, Monaragala, or Batticoloa, but the former( smaller in size districts) carry massive number of votes(that MS got most of his support at). So for the ignorant people who doesn’t understand numbers yet grasp visuals may tend to think” man such a huge portion of land mass is won by MR, and that must be all sinhalease votes”. So from what angle we look at this this is a sinister plan by MR, GOTA and company to trick the not so analytical minds.

  • 1
    14

    Do not insult your qualificationss you DISGRACEFUL IDIOT.

    Just subtract the minority vote from the total number of votes received by Maithree and you will see that without the minority votes he would have lost.

    It IS ONLY BECAUSE THE MINORITIES DECIDED TO VOTE IN THIS ELECTION AND TO VOTE FOR MAITHRI THAT HE WON.

    STOP BEING A RACIST PIG AND JUST ACCEPT THAT THE MINORITIES WON YOU THIS ELECTION.

    GIVE THEM THE CREDIT THAT IS DUE.

    IF YOU FAIL TO DO THAT THEY MAY DESERT YOU AT THE COMING ELECTION.

    DO NOT TRY TO BRING IN THE USA ELECTORAL COLLEGE AND TRY TO CONFUSE THE ISSUE. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS???????

    BECUAUSE YOU ARE A RACIST AND YOU DO NOT WANT TO ADMIT THAT THE MINORITIES GAVE MAITHRI THIS VICTORY _ THIS IS VERY CLEAR YOU DISGRACE!

    • 6
      1

      your language skills need to be polished. Pigs ,Fools? You must be very smart. It seems to be so, from your analysis.

      • 1
        0

        his name says it all- he is crazy – he is old and he is a man – what more can u expect ?

  • 2
    1

    The infographics for the uninitiated or for those who take a quick glance and do not pay attention to the actual vote tally bluntly states that Sinhalese voted for Mahinda and Tamils voted for Maithiripala.

    The truth ofcourse is that while Mahinda got more Sinhalese votes than Maithiri, the later still needed to get a large chunk of the Sinhalese voters to win.

    If Sinhalese voted en-block for Mahinda like Tamils of the various religions did, then Mahinda would have won.

  • 3
    0

    Probably the best graph to show the result of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Elections is a simple bar graph that will show the number of votes obtained by each candidate. The election process is a simple one vote per person and that is all that matters. Any attempt to show the results graphically indicating regional, racial or communal divides is tacitly attempting to take away the equality of each individual voter.

  • 1
    0

    Rohan Samarajiva

    I agree with you
    But everyone knows how New York counting helped in the bush victory. The rules of the Games is such that one has to accept the result. How primitive was that State in counting Votes. Very Sad indeed. You should not blame U.S. For the State rigging.

    Coming to Sri Lanka’s Set up as on this date. I have to state Sri lanka is already a divided Country with well defined boundaries held together with the might of Arms.

    After five years of Northeastern occupation and covert and overt colonisation the boundaries are more than visible.

    The Country haa A District where the Government Agent is made compulsorily made to be a buddhist as he has to sit in the college that elects the board of management of the Dalada Maligava. History of the country has instances where Christians converted to hold posts.(MahaNuwara.).

    Then there are divisional level Administrive divisions meant for Sinhalese and tamils in the North and East. Eg. Vavuniya South Tamil And Vavuniya South Sinhslese.Divisions.

    The poiltitions need this as recently as the defeated immediate Past president has uttered the he cannot accept the defeat as he was beaten by the Tamil Votes.

    What Sri Lanka needs is to hold the Presidential election with the votes all dumped into a single heap and counted at one place to prevent the chance to identify from where the votes came from.

    Sri Lanka should identify her sons and dughters as Sri Lankans in their identity Cards. Not as Tamil and Sinhalese ( The Mono Lingual Identity Cards for Sinhales and Bilingual Cards For Tamils.

    Sri Lanka Should stop collecting data statistics of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians Etc by religion. Tamils Sinhalese Bughers, Malays, Moors, Up Country Sinhalese, Low Country Sinhalese, Indian Origin Tamils Etc before uni poility is adopted. .

    Levi
    Sri lanka today has a divided poilty with Efhenically identifyable boundaries. Your statement that the

  • 0
    0

    Why not this article be published in Sinhalese after translation, in some Sinhala main stream papers, Rohan.

  • 1
    0

    I don’t think the vast majority who used these info-graphics has any idea about the US elections and its relevance to those info-graphics. They just did it to divide the nation on racial lines.

  • 2
    0

    I am hearing/reading the word “Diaspora” “minority” in these columns a quite a lot. I have been dealing with the Tamils and Muslims in my work and I employed number of Tamils and Muslims in my firm . I have seen how they reacted to the election in Sri Lanka and how they were interested in the country they were born. What I realised is none of the Presidents in Sri Lanka and our Sinhala people who write in to papers do not identify these minority as a sons or daughters of Sri Lanka but They are just “minority” or “Diaspora” to them. Please do not treat them as second class citizens and or treat that they are not belong to Sri Lanka. They also loves Sri Lanka and they loves the country they were born just as me and you. In this election people wanted a change and they voted for it. Gampaha district is a very good example why and how MR lost . MR lost 55,000 votes in Gampaha and MS received 235,000.00 more votes in Gampaha compared to 2010 election. . This shows two term is enough for any leader and the new leader should be allowed to carry on with his work regardless. – this remind me an idom(sic) in English language ” King is dead” “long live the King”

  • 0
    0

    I looked up the government’s election result graphic and they show a bar graph by each electoral unit. I think that representation is better than the image shown here.

    It’s obvious to any thinking person that these images are created to push agendas – as is done in the US house and senate day in and day out, where interns run around carrying charts and graphs up and down Washington DC :)

    The main lesson to get from this election is that people are tired of corruption and curtailment of freedoms enjoyed prior to the latter Rajapakse years.

    It would be wise for the current politicians to listen to the people. While the majority Sinhalese voted for Mahinda, 45% is a significantly high percentage for the current president. Maithree cannot afford to ignore that 45% or anger the remaining 55% by forcing policies that are unpopular with them.

    The Maithree administration should work on the most common denominator-issues and hold off on tackling tougher issues until they have proven themselves to be authentically different from the former regime in the eyes of the people.

  • 0
    0

    Sigh….it boils down to the same thing. The US electoral votes are tallied to the individual popular vote – the SL colored map relatable to the electoral votes. This supposedly “racist” map is a good indicator of what the majority of people fears most, and should be used to develop a culture for greater understanding of Natural Heritage of Island- especially as there is an even greater green beastie across the Palk.

    • 0
      0

      Does this mean that Colombo is the new capital of Peelam ?

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