The Next Generation of Political Communication

I don’t know about you but I’m about ready for the election. Enough, already. I’m up to here with political advertisements on television and, worse, political robo-calls. The latter are proving almost completely ineffectual. the former concentrate irritatingly on the personal and professional shortcomings of opponents. What do Bill Brady or Pat Quinn actually plan to do in concrete terms if they win the election for governor? If you depend on television ads as I presume most people do, you have no idea but you do know how awful they think their opponent is.

What I want to draw your attention to is an extremely interesting, different approach to political communication emphasizing a visual content.

It’s nearly 15 minutes long but it’s worth watching. The title of the post containing this video is “The other side of the White House white board”. It takes as its point of departure another visual presentation, this time by White House Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee which appeared on the White House web site.

In this post I am not attempting to analyze the factual content of the two videos. As Mr. Hennessey observes, to be certain of the outcome if the White House had not taken the steps it did requires a counterfactual. We will never know. Make your own judgements. I’m concentrating on the medium, not the message.

In his counter-video Mr. Hennessey takes Dr. Goolsbee’s presentation and performs a bit of jiu-jitsu. Using the unifying visual metaphor of flipping the board over he presents his counter-argument. He then analyzes not merely the facts that Dr. Goolsbee presents but how Dr. Goolsbee’s visual presentation influences the viewer’s response to the facts. He follows this with alternative presentation approaches—redrawing the scale of the chart that Dr. Goolsbee employs or displaying the same data in a different way.

The presentation has several effects. First, it effectively contradicts or even refutes Dr. Goolsbee’s thesis that the actions taken by the Obama Administration have turned the economy around. Second, despite Mr. Hennessey’s explicit refusal to ascribe motive to Dr. Goolsbee’s decisions as to what data to show and what to withhold, there is a clear imputation that Dr. Goolsbee and, implicitly, the White House is making its case dishonestly.

Both of these presentations show marked signs of the trend I have commented on previously here and called “visualcy”. Dr. Goolsbee’s video presents in simple, graphical terms the White House’s case: that the policies of the Bush Administration had a negative effect on the economy, that the actions of the Obama Administration have reversed those effects, that the economy has improved. Mr. Hennessey’s counter-video “samples” Dr. Goolsbee’s video to draw the opposite conclusions: that the Bush Administration’s policies helped the economy, that the actions of the Democratic Congress have injured the economy, and that the actions of the Obama Administration have not been adequate to staunch the bleeding. Mr. Hennessey further draws into question Dr. Goolsbee’s sincerity by his explanations of how the Goolsbee presentation is structured.

What we are seeing here may well be the next generation of political communication. It is at the very least a striking illustration of how visual presentation can digest large amounts of data into a form that is easily understood and convincing.

8 comments… add one
  • Nicely done. But the calm, low-pitched, professorial tone of Mr. Hennessey’s voice convinces as well as the alternate graphics.

  • I agree that the tone helped but the presentation is an intrinsically visual one, it’s style is more engaging (IMO) than Dr. Goolsbee’s equally professorial and professional visual presentation, and I think it’s a sign of things to come.

  • steve Link

    I had to stop after 5 minutes. I have not seen Goolsbee’s [presentation, but Hennessey’s is FOS. Notice how he concentrates on only the good years for Bush, but assesses the whole time period for Obama. Notice how he wants to concentrate on total jobs, wanting to avoid, perhaps, mentioning that for Bush’s 8 years there was no growth in private jobs. Ok, I lied. According to the BLS, Bush added a total of 127 private sector jobs.

    About 2 million public sector jobs were added. Is that really the model Mr. Hennessey wants to promote?

    But, if your contention is that the presentation looks convincing, yes it does. If you have any idea what the numbers are and are willing to go double check them, then it falls apart. Again, I have not looked at Goolsbee’s numbers. I suspect he also chose the most favorable numbers. Maybe he really is wrong to emphasize private sector growth. We can always use more people in government.


  • But, if your contention is that the presentation looks convincing, yes it does.

    Yes, that’s exactly the point I’m making. I’m not thinking about the merits of the argument one way or the other, just the form and style.

  • Maxwell James Link

    Otherwise known as the evolution of lying. Fascinating.

  • john personna Link

    Well, it’s been a few days and I still haven’t had the energy to watch these. Instead, I flit. Click, click, click.

    I think tomorrow’s arguments might need to be made in an RSS header.

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