Tips on Building a Live Political Tracker

Sophie Sparkes
on June 22, 2016

Here in the UK, the impending Brexit vote has divided the nation in recent months. I've been following the conversation here with a Leave vs. Remain tracker (seen below). The tracker uses Talkwalker’s social media data to show who’s making the most noise. I'm updating the tracker daily to see which camp makes more noise over time, and which events trigger spikes in conversation in both camps.

As you might imagine, there can be many uses for a tracker like this one. So I thought I'd share a few tips on building a live tracker.

1. Get the Data and Figure Out How to Update Regularly

There are several ways to update your data on a regular basis. One option is to get the data into Google Sheets using an IFTTT recipe. You can also use the ImportHTML function in Google Sheets.

Another great option is, which you can now schedule to run daily.

If you have to update your data from an external source, figure out exactly how often you'll need to do this. And remember this will take dedication and time!

2. Build the Tracker Template

When designing your tracker, build your viz with the whole timeline in mind. Your data will grow over time, and you don’t want your viz to look cluttered.

Here’s what my tracker looked like at the start. You can see that I left plenty of room for the weeks leading up to the Brexit vote.

And make sure your tracker looks good on your phone, too. Especially with an ongoing project like this one, you’ll want your audience to be able to check in on any device. Here's what my tracker looks like on mobile:

3. Once Your Tracker Is Up and Running, Add Value

Over time, your tracker will show the overall trend, which will be of interest to your audience. Add value to that trend by annotating any major peaks, valleys, or swings. Check out the annotations in the Brexit tracker for examples.

Remember, you can save over your existing viz on Tableau Public. Choose “save” instead of “save as” so you don’t have update the embed code or the URL.

4. Track Unscheduled Events, Too

As you start tracking your issue, go beyond the official events like scheduled debates. Unexpected events—someone saying something outrageous, for example—also impact people’s opinions as well as the broader conversation.

These non-official happenings can be easy to forget once they pass. To avoid this, I'm keeping a daily record of major events like the Brexit flotilla spectacle and James Dyson pledging his support for the Leave camp. I'm using Evernote to outline daily headlines for myself, and I'm even linking to a news article about the event to take note of the details.

Here's an excerpt from my notes:

Week 13 – 19 June

13 June

14 June

15 June

Got tracker-building tips of your own? Share them in the comments below, or tweet them to us @tableaupublic using the hashtag #PoliticsDataMonth.

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