the sally sisson blog

November 4, 2010

Left vs. Right: Re-visualizing the political spectrum (in polarizing times)

l vs r

Click for full size version:

Left vs. Right: A Visualization of the Political Spectrum

Fair and balanced

Back in January I posted this infographic on my Facebook page as an interesting example of information design. I found it thought-provoking, but didn’t bother to articulate why.

Then this morning, I was watching a TED talk on YouTube with information designer David McCandless, and up popped the same chart. (Ironically, I had just come indoors after pulling my collection of political yard signs out of the ground, hoping to appease my neighbors.)

Viewing the graphic nearly a year later, in the aftermath of the cut-throat mid-term elections, it struck me as quaint and out of date. The hues of red and blue now looked too subdued, the lines too soft around the edges. It’s a friendly looking graphic, in contrast to the technicolor FOX News one in my mind.

And I guess that’s part of the point — and perhaps the chief reason it begs a second look. These are polarizing times, and we desperately need to find some commonality.

Oh say, can you see…

As McCandless eloquently described the thought process behind his infographic, I scribbled down his words (on Post-its, the back of an envelope, and the margins of the comics section of the Boston Globe). Here’s the bit that resonated with me most:


“When I was designing this image, I desperately wanted this side, the left side, to be betterthan the right side (…being a journalist type, a left-leaning person). But I couldn’t because I would have created a lopsided, biased diagram. So in order to really create a full image I had to honor the perspectives on the right-hand side, and at the same time I had to sort of, uncomfortably, recognize how many of qualities were actually in me—which was really, really annoying… and uncomfortable.

“But not too uncomfortable … because there’s something unthreatening about seeing a political perspective versus being told or forced to listen to one.

You’re capable of holding conflicting viewpoints, joyously even, when you can see them.”

consiousnessA matter of perspective

“That’s what’s exciting for me: to see how data can change my perspective and change my ideas, even mid-stream.”

— David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful,
available on and at

Watch the entire TED Talk here:

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

(Click on link above. The Left vs. Right bit is at 14:50.)

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May 7, 2010

Social Media 101: “Walshgate” Tweet and How the Dems’ Fall Fumble with Twitter and Facebook Served as Wake-Up Call

I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the recent Scott Brown vs. Rachel Maddow mix-up (for lack of a better word). As a loyal Mass Democrat, I’m a big fan of state party chair John Walsh. But I had to laugh that the root of the controversy turned out to be a “goofed” tweet-gone-wrong.

Tweet Heard ‘Round the (Political) World

Apparently Walsh picked up on a Facebook rumor about Maddow aiming to challenge Brown for his senate seat in 2012. Intending to tweet a message to an individual, he instead sent it viral and spread it out to the masses. Thus fueling the fire.

Slick young media types jumped on this right away. posted this snarky remark:

“First of all, it appears that the Massachusetts Democratic Party needs to hire a social media consultant (or just someone under the age of 30?)”


Years ago we used to panic about accidentally hitting “reply all” on an email message. Now an errant tweet can spread across the country in seconds.

As someone who works in social media and also gets worked up over politics, I followed the Brown vs. Coakley campaign closely. But during the campaign I must admit I was mainly fixated on the influence of television.

Every sound bite and telegenic glimpse of Brown in his barn coat sent me back to Joe McGinniss’s classic The Selling of the President 1968.

sellingIt wasn’t until after the election when pundits started parsing the role of social media and harping on the Democrats for their feeble Facebook usage stats, that I realized the magnitude.

The young guns behind the Obama campaign had shown the rest of the country the power of grassroots marketing and the Internet. The Republicans spent the next couple years playing catchup,  jumped on the social media train, and surpassed the Democrats at their own game. Using iPhone apps, YouTube videos and Facebook, the Brown camp ran a heck of a campaign.

And now the Dems are the ones playing catchup. They’ve learned their lesson and are leveling the social-media playing field. It will be interesting to watch what happens next.

This time I’ll be checking Twitter, not

Twitter & Facebook controversy for Scott Brown and Rachel Maddow blog shows Walsh’s actual tweet and Brown’s email to donors:

How Scott Brown’s Social-Media Juggernaut Won Massachusetts,8599,1960378,00.html

Atwitter in Mass.: Brown’s Social Media Strategy Tops Coakley’s

After the fall 2009 elections, The Wall Street Journal cited a report on lawmaker’s use of Twitter:

“Republican lawmakers are taking advantage of the Twitterverse significantly more than their Democratic counterparts. In the House, GOP lawmakers send out 529% more tweets than Democrats.”

Not for long. Stay tuned…


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