Romney Tax Day Infographic

The Romney team just released an infographic comparing the federal budget to a household budget. Replicated below:


I wanted to give an informal critique of this infographic. I honestly believe creating infographics is a form of art and that we need to give deep and careful consideration to all aspects of this art.

who is the target audience?

What they should want out of this infographic is to have the viewer see themselves in the family budget. They should be targeting a) people who are independents and b) people who might care about the federal budget.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the average family of four making under $25K a year doesn’t give a crap about the federal deficit. And complaining about it to them is probably not the best tactic to win their vote.

make the numbers mean something to the audience

On a quick look, the median income for a family of four in the US is about $67K. This is going to be a number people are a little more familiar with. People who do care about the deficit are going to look at the numbers in the infographic and feel a certain disconnect because the income is so far away from what they are familiar with.

When a typical man or woman supporting a family of four sees this infographic, they will start this train of thought:

“Well, if I had an income of $24,686, we’d have to move to another house. Gosh, where would we go? Probably rent somewhere, it would have to be under $700 a month. We’d have to sell a car and the kids… wow, we’d have to cancel most of their activities. Would I even be able to afford my iPhone? I’m under contract for another year, so I’d have to wait that out but I don’t think I can function properly without a smartphone…”

Can you see what they’re not thinking about?


Instead, they should have realized that you want the audience to slip easily into the role of the family. To this end, recalculate all the numbers for a median family of 4. I’ve done it here:

Family income – $65,500

Family spending – $100,708

New Debt – $35,208

Total Debt – $434,081

Note: My first calculation was for $65,000, but I saw that this number brought the “spending” number to just  to just under $100,000, which is an psychologically important hump. So I bumped the income up another $500 to hit that psychological mark. These kinds of details should be in the mind of every infographic creator.

These numbers are going to target an audience that cares about the topic at hand, and ultimately make more of the impact we want.

the graphic is not “share-sized”

What you see above is only 25% the size of the original. The original version of this thing is a half megabyte and comes in at 2112 x 3731 resolution. Holy cow.

Everyone knows the new iPad has a monster resolution, right? Here’s how this graphic would look at full resolution on a new retina-display iPad.


And on an iPad 2


A lot of viewing these days is done on mobile devices with screen sizes much smaller than an iPad 2. By having such a monster infographic, we’ve cut our potential viewing audience way down.

And they have no options for sharing it at a smaller size. There is a link to “download and print” it, but who is going to do that? Infographics are seen online. If you’re going to print them, fit them onto an 8 x 11 piece of paper. This infographic does neither.

I’m glad the Romney team has made infographics a part of their media platform. But they have a long way to go to create infographics that make the kind of impact that they potentially can make.


  1. mgroves says:

    It’s also not clear what the agenda is. “Stop the insanity, stop the spending”. Does that mean Mitt wants to stop all deficit spending? Or, like every other politician, is he just going to advocate for some token spending cuts, but not even consider cutting “non-discretionary” programs, subsidies, price controls, etc?

  2. Not to mention that it is kind of bogus. If you take the same data from 1945, and scale it in a analogous manner to get it to the same order of magnitude, the debt was worse and we paid that off eventually.

    This is a typical conservative argument, remove the nuances until you are left with something that is easy to understand, regardless if removing the nuances completely changes the picture. Governments are not families, the national debt is not the same as credit card debt, and deficit spending is good if the money you are spending has a positive return on investment. This is like the old saying, “every complex problem has a simple solution, which happens to be wrong”.

  3. In 1945, we had just spent a few years borrowing heavily to fund a tremendous war effort in order to remove a serious existential threat. We also immediately cut spending drastically when the war was over. And even then, I think the claim that “we paid that off eventually” is kind of sort of totally false. To carry the household analogy, we’ve just kept opening new credit cards to pay off the old ones.

    Today our borrowing is not to fund a temporary war effort, it’s to fund things the government considers basic operating costs. If you want to compare today to 1945, our next course of action should be immediate cuts to federal spending. There is zero justification for ignoring the continued cost of such borrowing.

  4. Andrew Zinn says:

    I agree with Brian. We should look to the 40’s for our answers. In 1945, federal spending was over 40% of GDP. Over the next three years, federal spending dropped almost down to 15% of GDP. Let’s drastically cut spending and make pro-growth laws so we can pay off our debt.

  5. Zundfolge says:

    I think your first criticism is a little off.

    The target of this info-graphic isn’t “the average family of four making under $25K a year [that] doesn’t give a crap about the federal deficit.” The use of the 24,686 Family Income figure is clearly to tie the numbers to the Federal Deficit (which also starts with “24”). I believe your average $65k earner can still relate to the $24k example given and will better make the connection between this example Family Deficit and the Federal Deficit. Most folk that make $65k made $25k at one time.

    Your second criticism however is spot on. If you’re going to jump on the internet bandwagon you design your graphics for display on the screen, not to be printed at 8.5×11 (and then presumably stapled to telephone poles?).

  6. politicalmath says:

    Brian, Andrew:

    There was a pretty substantial difference between debt just after WWII and debt now. I talk about it here:

    A comparisons between 1940’s debt and now is a dangerously invalid comparison.

  7. Andrew Zinn says:

    I was trying to show Brian’s flawed ideas through some humor and showing the drastic change the country budget went through in a few short years. Guess I fell short.

    I still think we should cut spending and make pro-growth laws though.

  8. politicalmath says:


    I’m notoriously bad at reading humor in my comments. Usually why I stay out of them 🙂

  9. […] howdy I am glad to see that. Unfortunately, his campaign also made an ill-informed infographic, and Political Math does a great job of talking about what’s wrong with it and what could make it […]

  10. SM says:

    Don’t stay out of your comments – you should stay off the internet. Period.

    Dollars are dollars, whether they are spent on building tanks and sinking them in the ocean, or building tanks and shooting at Nazis. The reason the massive amount of STIMULUS circa 1945 pulled us out of the great depression isn’t because that money was spent “fighting an existential threat” – its because it EMPLOYED PEOPLE to do work in this country at a time demand was needed. Now, we can argue over whether it would be better to put people in factories building munitions in 2012 or building say, bridges, roads, solar panels, or even digging holes and filling them up again, but as far as the economy is concerned, there is NO DIFFERENCE TODAY. Either one, paychecks to troops fighting nazis or paychecks to troops fighting global warming, will have the exact same effect. And again, at the end of our massive WWII stimulus, the federal debt burden for the united states was higher than it will be in the foreseeable future, and immediately following that was the greatest expansion of the middle class and wealth, even distributed, in our nations history.

    Not only do you not understand economics, you don’t understand history.

    Stop. You are misinforming all these people and making our country worse off. Take up a hobby you understand.

  11. newgramma says:

    Did anyone else notice the “subtle” color of the WOMAN?


    And yes, the “family” numbers are a direct reflection of the country’s numbers.

    And, no matter which way you cut it, taking taxes from one and paying another with them is wealth redistribution. PERIOD.

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