Last week, Pew released a survey with the headline ‘Support for Alternative Energy and Offshore Drilling.’ The piece begins, "The public continues to favor a wide range of government policies to address the nation’s energy supply…"
That is accurate, but it doesn’t get at the most striking data. The most important finding in the survey is the fact that clean energy and mass transit investments are vastly more popular than nuclear investments and offshore drilling.
Here is how Pew presents the data (Figure 1):
As a mini-case study on how informational graphics can add significant meaning to this sort of data, I’ve created a few simple charts.
This chart (Figure 2) shows the approval and disapproval numbers for the four policy options:
And this chart (Figure 3) shows the net approval numbers for the four policy options:
Presenting the information in text only format, as Pew chose to do in Figure 1, leaves the reader to their own devices to identify the most compelling data. While the data is technically accurate, it fails to bring the meaning of the data to the forefront. Pew’s accompanying analysis of the polling data also somehow fails to identify the massive gap in net approval for the policies they surveyed.
Creating a simple chart (Figure 2) based on the data itself adds significant value to the presentation of the data, especially for the casual reader. The reader can tell at a glance that clean energy investments are significantly more popular than polluting energy sources, and that unpopularity follows the opposite pattern.
Going one step further and doing simple arithmetic to determine the net approval for each of the policies in the survey, as I’ve done with Figure 3, brings the most striking data to the forefront. The fact that more than 50% of Americans support a variety of policies to produce-more or consume-less energy is not, in itself, especially meaningful. But the fact that the net approval for some of these policies is 40-60%, while it is barely 10% for others, is fairly compelling.