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I’ll admit it.. I was not the least bit inspired when the second Iron Viz feeder topic was announced. I’m a voter, but outside of that I try to avoid all forms of politics whenever possible, which made coming up with a topic for this contest even more difficult.

On the verge of calling it quits I noticed the contest rules mentioned that an entry could be about politicians themselves, and having recently read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, I decided to viz the life of JFK. Please enjoy the many parts of his story that I was able to get to: his family, time as a senator, presidential election, presidency, and the assassination timeline.

For the first story point, I wanted to focus on the Kennedy family. There isn’t much that I could possibly visualize about JFK’s childhood, so a family tree seemed fitting. I also remembered that Jeffrey Shaffer posted a tutorial on node-link tree diagrams that I’ve always wanted to explore, and I family tree viz fits his mold perfectly.

The Kennedy family has a storied history, and most of it is public knowledge. One thing I didn’t know about JFK and Jackie is that they had a miscarriage and also had a stillborn daughter named Arabella before their other 3 children were born.


For the story point on JFK’s time in the senate, I wanted to show how he got there and also highlight some of the impact he made during his term. I was surprisingly about to find MA county level voting data for this election, but unfortunately had to manual interact with a map and write down every data point. The map has two different views that tell two different stories. JFK lost a greater amount of counties as you can see on the left, but key victories in heavily populated counties secured the victory.

During his time in the senate, JFK voted on many issues and tended to be in for more than against 61.6% – 38.4%. He also helped pass a bill that extended the life of the civil rights commission, an issue that was a key component to his future presidency.


If you’ve seen one election map, you’ve seen them all. That is what I thought when I started working on this story point at least. With that in mind, and after seeing a few good divergent bar charts lately, I set out to show the small divide between JFK and Nixon. The bar chart on top shows every state and the percentage of their popular vote that went to JFK, Nixon, or Byrd. Bars on the left are the states where JFK claimed the largest victory margin, bars on the right are states that favor Nixon. In the end I was very satisfied with this chart as it clearly shows that there were very few large victories in this election, and Richard Nixon could very well have been our 35th President. What kind of butterfly effect would that have caused?

There were a few states (highlighted in yellow) that went fairly rogue in this election. Electors in Alabama and Mississippi pledged their votes to Democrat Harry Byrd, along with one additional elector in Oklahoma. These votes didn’t necessarily swing the election in either candidates favor, but they were out of the norm.


There are many different ways this story point could have gone, but focusing on approval and executive orders seemed like a fair representation of a presidency when limited with time. The approval ratings view shows two things: The average approval rating over the lifetime of a President’s term(s) (bar chart), and that President’s first approval rating compared to their last (slope chart). What was striking to me is how rare it is to leave office with a greater approval rating than the starting rating. Although JFK had the second highest average approval rating since FDR, he still left office with a much lower rating.

JFK made one of the most historic executive orders in history by establishing the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity Employment. This executive order was highly controversial at the time, as civil rights still wasn’t fully established in the United States. Although there is sadly still a long way to go, by making this executive order JFK paved the way for a more equal country today


You can’t do any research about JFK without focusing on his assassination. The original inspiration for this entire viz, JFK.org has a very cool interactive timeline of not only JFK’s assassination, but his entire life. I was able to scrape every single event from this page, which helped me build out the same timeline in a way that focuses more on the data. As with my last Iron Viz entry, this one was made possible by Chris DeMartini and the folks at datablick, where there is a great tutorial on building jump plots in Tableau. The hops represent time passage between each major event of the assassination. The first story point focuses on the day before, second is the day of, and the third are the following two days. I recognize that a jump plot is not necessarily the most conventional or necessary way to plot this data, but I wanted the reader to feel that every event was connected, something that I don’t think a bar chart would capture. I tired to annotate the most important events, but if that doesn’t provide the full story (which it doesn’t), the tooltips are filled with detail and allow the reader to fully immerse themselves into the story.

I’m sure most know the bulk of this story, but did you know that JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby were all pronounced dead or died at the same hospital?


Concluding Thoughts

Couldn’t help but to think I left out too many large chunks of JFK’s experiences when the viz was finally published. Going to try and continue to build onto this viz over time and include some detail about JFK’s time in the Navy… read about it if you haven’t, it is fascinating.

This was a fun project and I am happy to even be entering the politics viz contest. Not sure if I have a winner, but was proud of myself to get an entry submitted with the topic of politics being so far out of my element!

Thank you to Matt Francis, Pooja Gandhi, Adam Crahen, Brit Cava and Josh Tapley.. all of whom gave great feedback and encouragement for this viz!

Thank you for reading and good luck to the rest of the entrants!

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