Benchmarking: Elected leaders are making the world less democratic

A relatively recent Bloomberg article presents a paradoxical statement: We’re having more elections that ever before, but our world isn’t necessarily becoming more democratic. In fact, it’s becoming less.

As part of our benchmarking exercise, we delved deeper into the many insightful visualizations in the article. (To read the full article for yourself, follow the link here.)

Given that Bloomberg is a news agency based in the UK, the likely intended audience for the article is a Western one. Even though politics and heavier subject matter (such as the state of our democratic world) are topics that tend to skew older, 48% of online traffic to Bloomberg actually comes from those under the age of 34. Therefore, it’s likely that this article was meant for a both a diverse and wide age range.

The purpose of the visualizations themselves in the article is to call attention to these recently alarming trends, motivating readers to think critically about elections and be active in them. Through contrasting color tones (blue and red), the article makes a clear distinction “more democratic” and “less democratic” categories, helping aid the digestion of otherwise rather dense data sourced from the V-Dem Liberal Democracy index. By continuously reaffirming these distinctions, much to the surprise of the reader, the message becomes apparent: we must not make blanket assumptions that our level of democracy will always remain the same without effort and action.

Between the different visualizations, the consistency in colors works well in communicating this message. Similarly, there is only one parameter through which to evaluate the visual data, which makes it easy to jump from one visualization to the next without spending too much time understanding what is its individual message. The very first visualization in the article (pictured first in this post) also included a dynamic element to where when a user scrolls down, small messages flash onto the screen to highlight specific elements of the visualized data. This successfully helps feed some summarized textual input to the reader as well even if he or she does not fully read the article itself. 

Nevertheless, some aspects of the visualizations were not as successful. When quickly going through the article, it was not always clear what the difference was between each of the visualizations, especially given that the overall message stayed generally quite consistent. Of course, through a more diligent reading, the differences become more apparent, but this same level of effort is not always guaranteed with modern-day audiences online. Similarly, the icons that were meant to encourage interaction were often personally confusing upon first glance, and it wasn’t always clear what one needed to do in order to receive more information from the visualization.

Posted by Jenna Ahonen

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