The Moderate Middle Is A Myth

Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: United States

Organisation: FiveThirtyEight

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 24/09/2019

Credit: Ella Koeze, Lee Drutman

Project description:

This story is a visual tour of the murky middle of the electorate. Pundits and politicians love to talk about “moderate” or “independent” voters, but this story, using data from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, shows that those groups of voters are not an ideologically coherent voting bloc. It starts with a venn diagram showing the overlap of these groups, and then uses the venn diagram as a recurring way finder throughout the piece when diving deeper into each one. 

Impact reached:

The story was widely read and addressed a clear blind-spot in media coverage of elections and polling, in which conversations are framed around appealing to “moderate” or “independent” voters. The piece, which contains original analysis, has been cited by other reporters and academics who work in elections and polling. 

Techniques/technologies used:

The analysis and charting was done using R and the ggplot charting package, except for the venn diagram. The graphics were then finished in Adobe Illustrator. The most important technique used in creating this piece, however, was close collaboration between the graphics editor and author. The intitial drafts had the venn diagram at the bottom, but as the graphics editor, I suggested a visually-led strucuture and the author was very open to reconfiguruing the story along that outline. The end result was more narratively cohesive, and much easier for the reader to follow.

What was the hardest part of this project?

There were two hardest parts to this this visualization. The first was to demostrate how these groups are related but distinct from each other. The venn diagram, while not the best at showing relative size, ended up being an effective way to guide readers through the contours of this group of people. The second challenge was how to show a lack of trend and still make the visualizations compelling. In this instance. In this case the repetition of “no trend” made the series of scatterplots more effective.

What can others learn from this project?

This piece serves as a corrective to popular narrative about moderate, independent and undecided voters. From a visual perspective, it’s instructive as a way to guide readers using visualization as a frame narrative and using repetive visual motifs to make a point. 

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