Hillary Clinton Botched A Venn Diagram

by Seth Millstein

The Hillary Clinton campaign was mocked on Friday for botching a Venn diagram. The campaign posted an image on Twitter that utilized everyone’s favorite childhood infographic to make a point about gun laws. However, it seems somebody on Clinton’s social media team missed that crucial day in third grade where you learn how Venn diagrams work, because the image they posted, um, didn’t work. Clinton’s Venn diagram fail is a humbling reminder to all of us that every now and again, things you learned in elementary school actually matter in real life.

Venn diagrams, consisting of just two circles and a bit of text, are an effective way to illustrate what happens when two disparate concepts, groups of people, or phenomena overlap with one another. For example, here is a simple Venn diagram that describes the overlap between a) people who are shady and b) people who receive mail. The result of that overlap, according to the diagram, is c), people who own a P.O. box.

Clinton’s Venn diagram attempted to make the straightforward point that 90 percent of Americans and 83 percent of gun owners support universal background checks. Easy, right?

Yup! Except, of course, if you draw the Venn diagram like this:

… in which case the policy argument is completely lost among the chorus of denunciations from Twitter users who can’t believe a major presidential campaign would post such an inept attempt at a Venn diagram.

The blue circle (“90% of Americans”) and the light yellow circle (“83 percent of gun owners”) are the main sources of conflict here, because only half of each is marked "support universal background checks." Because of this, the implication is that only half of 90 percent of Americans, and half of 83 percent of gun owners, support universal background checks. And that’s not what Clinton was attempting to communicate.

Additionally, the 83 percent of gun owners who support background checks exists as a subset of the 90 percent of Americans who support background checks. In other words, all of the gun owners that the diagram references are also Americans. However, the light yellow portion of the Venn diagram implies that gun owners who don’t support background checks aren’t actually Americans, and that's also not the point Clinton wanted to make.

Philip Bump at the Washington Post attempted to make a correct version of the Clinton Venn diagram. While he succeeded in properly representing all of the information, the resulting image wasn't a Venn diagram at all, thus confirming that this situation was neither the time nor the place for Clinton to bust out a Venn diagram.

All of these errors aside, this isn’t a harmful of a development for the Clinton campaign. The Venn diagram may have been horribly drawn, but the point about gun laws came through loud and clear. In fact, Clinton’s argument may get a bit more attention than it otherwise would have thanks to this whole mess. Still, let this reminds us that there are some arguments a Venn diagram just isn’t equipped to make.