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Beautiful Data by Toby Segaran, Jeff Hammerbacher

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Example 3: Age and Voting

Immediately after Barack Obama's historic election, there was speculation about the role of young voters in the winning coalition. Exit poll data showed that Obama did particularly well among the young, but was this really newsworthy? For example, political consultant Mark Penn wrote on the New York Times website, "Sure, young people voted heavily for Mr. Obama, but they voted heavily for John Kerry." Was Penn right?

As always, the clearest way to make a comparison is using a graph. Figure 19-3 shows the results, with four versions: first the basic graph that we made on election night (pulling exit poll data off the CNN website), then an improved version posted by a student who had noticed our graph on the Web, then to more time series plots of our own. In each of these graphs, points are connected with lines, with points representing the Republican candidate's share of the two-party vote among each of four different age groups in several recent elections. 2008 clearly was different, and so Mark Penn was wrong—another case of a pundit looking at numbers and not seeing the big picture. This is what graphics is all about: showing the details and the patterns all at once.

To get to the even larger picture, there is a huge amount of research in this area, and we do not mean to imply that these graphs, which reveal some simple patterns, are in any sense a replacement for more serious study of patterns of age cohorts and voting over time.

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