Election 2012: Where Are The PowerPoint Slides?

Our presidential candidates act like they're campaigning in 1912, not 2012. Did Ross Perot ruin charts forever?

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

November 5, 2012

3 Min Read

I figured it out. I figured out how in one small step the candidates could make the 2016 presidential campaign more informative and effective: Use PowerPoint.

I mean it. If you were making a bet-your-career business pitch, wouldn't you work up a few killer PowerPoint slides, at a minimum?

I'd guess pretty close to 100% of you would, if not a more elaborate, data-intensive multimedia presentation. But Mitt Romney and Barack Obama didn't have enough cash to whip up a deck of slides? In the business world, I hear executives constantly telling me they're trying to make more data-driven decisions. CIOs are creating dashboards that help employees visualize data so they know what action they should take. So why is it that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama almost never push charts on us to try to sway our votes?

The economic issues at the heart of this election are custom-made for data slapped up on a PowerPoint presentation. Governor Romney wants to show the economy is worse off than it was four years ago and is trending in the wrong direction. President Obama wants to show that the country was saved from ruin and is on the upward swing of a recovery. Show us.

And the deficit and debt? Never has an issue been more custom-made for a chart-aided discussion. The numbers are so astronomical they're hard for us to get our heads around, so help us picture the problem and what our government will look like when you're done.

The worst in me suspects two big reasons. One is that the campaigns think we're too stupid. Data and charts will confuse voters and won't have a meaningful impact on our decisions. I get that the campaigns focus on emotions as much as policies, feelings as much as performance. But in a razor-tight election, isn't there a niche here? The independents, the Latino vote, suburban women -- and the data-driven voter!

The second reason I fear is that numbers and charts are too concrete. Once you put numbers to page, they can be used against you. Numbers are harder to "walk back" when it turns out they don't play well in the polls. "Let me show you the chart put up by my opponent … "

Or maybe I'm too cynical, and the dearth of PowerPoint slides and charts is nothing more than a decades-long Ross Perot hangover. Remember the charts he brought to his campaign -- and the Saturday Night Live spoofs they launched?

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I'm no political pundit. I'm just a voter in a swing state (Wisconsin) who has watched the debates, convention speeches, and so many rival-bashing campaign ads that I think I can recite some word for word. So next year we voters should insist, like a 6th grade teacher making a public speaking assignment, that each candidate show at least three charts to support his or her argument.

Or perhaps I should just hope for this: Whoever gets into office will try a chart or two as he explains to us what he’s going to do about all of these problems we've been hearing about.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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