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Using Visualisation to Connect Politics with People

Here in the UK, we’ve been busy exercising our democratic rights through local and overall European elections. For those who aren’t aware, our local elections give us a chance to decide who runs our local services – everything from rubbish collection to the pavement of potholes, as well as things like children’s services. Meanwhile, the European elections give each country in the EU a chance to have their voices heard and influence pan-European legislation. These cover issues such as consumer protection, the environment, and genetically modified crops. You can read about it all in more detail here.

The system is a complex one, with multiple parties making their cases on various policies. Each election’s outcome is calculated in a different way. Trying to analyze over 60 million UK votes and 46 million EU votes, and put the results into a digestible format, is no easy task — particularly for the news channels who have to do so in an instant.

As such, many entities have sought to vet this election data through visualisation — this year we’ve seen more elaborate and state-of-the-art techniques than ever before. I’ve rounded up some of the best that the UK has to offer to show you just how the media here are using imagery and technology to bring politics to the masses.

1. Keeping it Simple

In the build up to the main event, The Guardian’s famous DataBlog used this colour-coded map of the UK to illustrate which councils would be holding elections, which party holds the current seat, and which party is most popular in each region. This is a fairly traditional infographic but it successfully illustrates where each party dominates at a glance.

2. Interactive European Summary

The FT took visual complexity up a notch with this interactive infographic to present the European Parliament election results by political group and country. Overall, it neatly shows that Euro-sceptic parties made big gains across Europe, with anti-establishment parties gaining support across the continent. If you click through to the UK page, you can see they secured 73 seats, the majority of which were for UKIP and Labour. It certainly helps to put the complicated numbers into perspective.

3. High-Tech Virtual Visualisation

Once the local results started flowing in, the BBC broadcast them live from this visualised virtual studio to help presenter Jeremy Vine bring them to life. This is a fantastic example of just what can be done with visualisation. They uses it to show that UKIP is unlikely to get power in councils, a passionate point of debate in the UK at the moment. They were also able to walk people through the historical battle between the two main parties, Labour and Conservative. Does a party with a lead a year ahead of the election mean they will win? According to this, not always.

Political data is particularly complicated to digest. However, visualising it certainly makes it easier to comprehend. With just 36% of the British population reported to be turning out to vote this year, I wonder how the media, or indeed the political parties themselves, could use it to better engage the general public? If you have any ideas, tell us about them in the comments.

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