Does this chart crime require a presidential pardon?

Ahhh, data viz. Making the sense of the world one carefully labelled axis at a time. Bringing calm where there is noise. Bringing clarity where there is confusion. Bringing light where there is darkness.

With all that stillness in mind, do take a look at this, tweeted out on Wednesday — with the caption “Approval ratings of every president” — by Matthew Yglesias, the co-founder of news website Vox.com, whose whole mission is making the news understandable (“Vox explains the news. We live in a world of too much information and too little context. Too much noise and too little insight”):

Look, as US politics fans, we have to admit we quite love looking at this chart. But Yglesias has been thoroughly rinsed for it on Twitter, and we can see why — it’s very hard to distinguish the different colours from one another, it essentially looks like a tangle of electric wires, and it pretty much is the definition of “too much noise”.

A lot of Twitter users seemed to direct Yglesias towards various “R packages” for a better colour palette (which tbh we had never heard of but now that we have we kind of agree) or suggested he had a word with Edward Tufte.

If you are wondering which line Trump is, it’s the kind of coral-y one that stops around 1,300 days (he’s so far been in office for 1,379 days if you’re interested) and is . . . at the bottom of the pack. SAD!

If you’re wondering why that blue line (which we think is Obama?) is showing more volatility than a bitcoin chart in a global pandemic, we honestly have no idea. Maybe they polled people more frequently in the Obama years? If you’re wondering why that same blue line goes on longer than anyone else’s, honestly again we have no clue, and do slightly wonder if it is in fact another chartological mistake (the only US president to have ever served more than two terms is FDR — after 1951, that stopped being allowed). If you’re wondering what that plummeting blue line is, it’s Nixon innit!

So there’s no hate here. It’s a bad chart, but we find it kind of great too, somehow. We just thought we’d leave it with you to puzzle over during the course of this momentous weekend, ahead of the most consequential US election since . . . well four years ago.

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