The Importance of Data Visualization: Turning Numbers into Stories

In the past few years, big data has become the “it” thing, for campaigns and businesses and everyone in between. Everyone knows they need data, but what do they do once they have it?

Having a data analyst who understands the data is great, but it’s of little use if the rest of the team can’t understand it as well. Data visualization is one of the best tools for bridging the gap between crunching the numbers and leveraging them to create solutions.

Visualization is about communicating and presenting information that can then be used for decision making. Euan Hunter explained the importance of data visualization in a blog for The Innovation Enterprise:

Visualization reveals intricate structure in data that cannot be absorbed in any other way. Storytelling with data visualization draws an impactful response from the user and reinforces it with numerical evidence. The way the human brain processes information means that presenting data as a story gives everyone in an organization a better understanding of it, and enabling a greater range of people to make sense of what it’s saying is often likely to lead to more insights.

Storytelling with data visualization can come in countless ways, based on the story that needs to be told.

Gaining Insights through Geography

In Missouri, a right to farm initiative was on the ballot in 2014. An analysis of the percentage of voters in each county intending to vote no on the initiative stood out in one particular county – the county where the opposition to the initiative was based.

MO Ballot Initiative

This visualization shows clearly the stark contrast between the voters in the opposition’s home territory and voters elsewhere in the state, in a way that’s much more digestible than a chart of county-by-county data, or a long excel table. 

Visualizing the Electorate

In another situation, a heat map of the electorate presents a picture of the state of the race with little explanation necessary. You can see the most dense population centers in red, and the breakdown by party affiliation.

Visualizing the Electorate by party identification and turnout propensity

This heat map shows net Republican Party identification on the X-axis and likelihood to turnout to vote on the Y-axis.

Even without a complete understanding of the numbers that went into creating this heat map, a campaign staffer could look at this and understand the party identification of the potential electorate – and how any given turnout scenario could affect the partisan leanings of the actual electorate. From here, the team can leverage their understanding of the electorate in decision-making.

Data can be useful in all aspects of an organization, but not without being fully understood. Effective data visualization takes piles of numbers and puts them in context to build a narrative. This is what allows organizations to implement data-driven decision making, and at TargetPoint we believe that this narrative is equally as important for our clients as the data that drives it.

For more looks at TargetPoint visualizations, check out our recent SCOTUS data, or our buildout of the GOP primary candidate matchups. Have a favorite viz? Share it with us in the comments.


By Kaylin Bugos, Research Analyst


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