Everything you need to know about the erratic quality of topical Twitter charts IN FIVE CHARTS

President Obama announced in his State of the Union address last Tuesday that he would use Executive Orders to make 2014 “a year of action.” In the week since, Republicans have attempted to paint Obama’s use of Executive Order as “extreme” and out of the ordinary. Senator Ted Cruz accused President Obama of “lawlessness” and a “willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat.”

Enter the Chart People, who can be counted on to produce “everything you need to know about Executive Orders by the President IN ONE CHART.”

No less than five charts on this topic have appeared in my Twitter feed on the topic. A few of them are chartjunk. Some suspiciously derivative. One or two are quite good. Here’s a quick tour.

The first, from the MSNBC website, shows the presidents not by year in office but by rank order, ripping the data away from temporal context and putting two President Bushes between Obama and Clinton, and Harry Truman between Gerald Ford and Theodore Roosevelt. The one good thing this chart does is show an annual average number of executive orders, to adjust for different term lengths.

topical twitter chart R Maddow

MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show


This chart from the Washington Post includes an interactive feature which changes the shade of the bar and bolds the name of the president in question – and does NOTHING ELSE.  It also arbitrarily shows only the first five years of a two-term president and absolute numbers for short-termers like Kennedy and Ford – neither normalizing nor showing absolute numbers.  It also starts with Truman, leaving out Franklin Roosevelt, who stands out on every other chart as all-time champion of the Executive Order.

Washington Post topical Twitter Chart

The Washington Post


Here is a great leap forward from Christopher Ingraham, soon-to-be graphics person at the Washington Post.  You get a sense of the historic progress of executive orders and some context in some useful and interesting annotations.  The chart also frames the data in terms of executive orders issued “per day in office,” putting every president on the same footing.

A history of executive orders



The next chart is identical in almost every way to Ingraham’s chart above.  The one adjustment is that they put the presidents on an easy-to-read vertical axis.  This is probably the best of the five charts, but Talking Points Memo offers only a hat tip to the original source – “h/t WonkViz, who inspired the chart” – not naming the designer or crediting the author of the informative annotations.


Talking Memo Points

Talking Points Memo


Finally, here’s another version from MSNBC – dropped onto a chartjunk template that throws the data-to-ink ratio way out of wack.  At least they credited Christopher Ingraham as a source.


MSNBC All In with Chris Hayes


If you’d like to make your own chart on the history of executive orders, here’s the dataset from the American Presidency Project website:


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