Gaffe Track: Hillary Clinton's 'Vennghazi'

Chris Barna
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Hillary Clinton

The gaffe: Vennghazi! The candidate’s Twitter account, on Friday, shared a diagram that purported to demonstrate the great overlap in support for universal background checks between American gun-owners and … Americans?

The problem: The chart makes no sense. It’s chartjunk that is, most simply … a mismatch of data visualization style (Venn diagram) and data being visualized. As Vox helpfully chartsplains:

The general point is true: The great majority of Americans do support universal background checks, including the great majority of gun owners.

But this is simply not how Venn diagrams work. The circles are completely wrong. They should, for one, overlap entirely, since the gun owners referenced in this are all Americans. And the circle for Americans should be much, much bigger than the circle for gun owners, since gun owners make up just one segment of the US population. (That is, unless, the Clinton campaign is literally saying that a lot of gun owners are un-American, which is a very, very hot take for a risk-averse campaign.)

The defense: None given so far.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): It doesn’t, really. But the dataviz also doesn’t look great coming from a campaign whose candidate is selling herself, in part, in terms of her wonkiness and mastery of detail. One of the true/false questions in the “Is Hillary Clinton qualified to be president?” quiz—which the campaign tweeted out earlier today, a couple of hours before the Vennghazi chart—reads: “Hillary was a driving force behind raising the minimum wage in New York and nationally, co-sponsoring or introducing bills to do it eight different times as senator.” (Spoiler, for those still awake: It’s true.)

The lesson: While perhaps the chart wants what it wants, sometimes it’s best to know Venn to hold ‘em—and know Venn to fold ‘em.