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Department of bad graphs

I try to be pretty careful with my charts and graphs, but I made a mistake this morning when I graphed Vanity Fair's poll showing that most people can't confidently explain the public option. Google Spreadsheet began the Y axis at 20 percent, and I didn't notice. As commenter Volpevi pointed out, that "biased this graph to over exaggerate the relative size of 'No' response ... Thus it appears as if the No's outweigh Yes's by almost a factor of 8. When in reality it's only about 2.5. (66 vs 26)." Here's how the graph should look:



By Ezra Klein  |  December 7, 2009; 4:02 PM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Think tank
Next: Mark Pryor makes the health insurance exchanges a bit more like



They make those funny graphs over at Fox, I think.:)

Posted by: arnold104 | December 7, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Still pretty bad, and I wonder how many of the third would confidently explain the public option as "government takeover of health care".

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | December 7, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

It should have been cut off at 8%.

Let's be honest here, there's no way 28% of the American people could explain the public option correctly. Heck, 28% of Senate staffers probably couldn't explain the public option correctly...

Google was just fixing your graph. They're very good, you know.

Posted by: theorajones1 | December 7, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

This kind of data should really be presented in a pie chart (presumably the missing 8% are "don't know").

Posted by: erh1103 | December 7, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Haha, I was complaining about that graph for exactly that reason. I knew better than to doubt your dedication to the presentational data arts, but I'm glad you took the opportunity to turn it into a PSA.

That said, I don't really get why they manipulated the original that way, though, since it's already a really striking gap. Fudging the margins to make it seem even vaster just hurts your credibility.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | December 7, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Google is not alone in setting up the axis like that. The thing is, it's not really the software vendors' fault; the requirements I've seen indicate the customers want that behavior. This makes it a case of the customer always being right, even when objectively wrong.

Posted by: KenInIL | December 8, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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