Elena Long


Visualisations of election data produced by the mass media, other organisations and even individuals are becoming increasingly available across a wide variety of platforms and in many different forms. As more data become available digitally and as improvements to computer hardware and software are made, these visualisations have become more ambitious in scope and more user-friendly. Research has shown that visualising data is an extremely powerful method of communicating information to specialists and non-specialists alike. This amounts to a democratisation of access to political and electoral data. To some extent political science lags behind the progress that has been made in the field of data visualisation. Much of the academic output remains committed to the paper format and much of the data presentation is in the form of simple text and tables. In the digital and information age there is a danger that political science will fall behind. This thesis reports on a number of case studies where efforts were made to visualise election data in order to clarify its structure and to present its meaning. The first case study demonstrates the value of data visualisation to the research process itself, facilitating the understanding of effects produced by different ways of estimating missing data. A second study sought to use visualisation to explain complex aspects of voting systems to the wider public. Three further case studies demonstrate the value of collaboration between political scientists and others possessing a range of skills embracing data management, software engineering, broadcasting and graphic design. These studies also demonstrate some of the problems that are encountered when trying to distil complex data into a form that can be easily viewed and interpreted by non-expert users. More importantly, these studies suggest that when the skills balance is correct then visualisation is both viable and necessary for communicating information on elections.

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