How to draw a political bar chart – part 2

In ‘How to draw a political bar chart – part 1’ I looked at some of the ways political bar charts are drawn by campaigners to put their party’s prospects in the best light.

This was on the basis of votes at the last General Election. But what can be done if those aren’t ‘helpful’?

Say the results last time were:

Party 1 16,000
Party 2 12,000
Party 3 7,000
Party 4 3,000
Party 5 2,000

Party 3 is a strong third, but it probably doesn’t want to show that it was third last time.

So what else might it use?

The results in local authority elections are commonly used. Quite often the most recent were held in a different (more recent) year from the General Election. Opposition parties often do better in local elections than governing parties. Parties can also do better in percentage terms because the turnout in local elections is often lower than in general elections.

(It is interesting to note the effects of voting systems on council results. In England and Wales, local authorities use the first-past-the-post system; Northern Ireland and Scotland use the Single Transferable Vote system.)

So, look out for bar charts based on:

  • votes cast at the most recent local election for each party in the wards or divisions in the constituency
  • numbers of councillors in the constituency for each party

But what might Party 3 do if these are still not ‘helpful’? Remember, Party 3 aims to show that it is one of just two ‘horses’ in the election race.

What if the constituency is one of a number within one council area? Party 3 might be second across the whole council in terms of votes or councillors. If so, then you might see see bar charts based on the whole area.

How about the European elections? These are counted at local authority level. Did Party 3 (or even Party 4 or 5) come first or second?

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are devolved administrations. Perhaps these provide Party 3 with ‘helpful’ results?

You might even see a recent council by-election – not necessarily in the constituency itself – quoted!

When a ‘helpful’ result is unavailable, parties need to look even further. It’s not uncommon to see bar charts based on the national opinion polls, or even what a party is finding in its own canvassing of electors. (I shall blog on the uncertainties and vagaries of canvassing at another time.)

Whatever the parties use, look out for the same presentation techniques as set out in Part 1 of this guide.

Next time – political bar charts, Big Mo and the first derivative!

NB: none of the above should be seen as endorsing or criticising any particular technique.

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