Off the Charts: Congress Posters

      Off the Charts

      Regular viewers of C-SPAN —or House and Senate floor speeches— are familiar with the charts members of Congress use to make their point. They’ve been using so-called Floor Charts since at least the early 1900s, long before we could see them on TV. And now William Gray, Founder and Curator of, is trying to track and preserve them.

      Sharyl: What makes an effective chart in your view?

      William Gray: In my view, an effective chart has one message that I can read from a TV screen, whether that's a cute animal with a giant phrase like teapots or tea museums and has a message tied with the lawmakers that say, I'm trying to tell you one thing very clearly. One of them is going to get your attention. This is a very good example of if you are literally flipping through the channels and you see this, you're gonna stop, which is what most of my friends did when they saw this on C-SPAN.

      Sen. Sherrod Brown: We know what manufacturing is, we know what manufacturing isn't.

      William Gray: The irony is this came out of an actual serious economic debate where George W. Bush's team was asking if you actually put a hamburger together under our tax laws, is that manufacturing or not? And Sherrod Brown was saying, No, this cannot be the same thing as making a car, but he put a poster to it because of he wanted to do a political ding and also make a nice visual image against the President whom he didn't agree with on the issue.

      William Gray: So this is nine charts individually actually. So this is my showing how Congress has had to try to modernize itself and to lean in to what I call the millennial social media crowds, and most of these gentleman do not, by nature, use social media probably on a daily basis.

      Sharyl: They may not even know what a hashtag really does.

      William Gray: They do not know what a hashtag does; however, the staff do, and their constituency certainly do.

      Sharyl: This one says," I will gladly secure the border next Tuesday for legalization today. "

      William Gray: So this is Senator Ted Cruz. He's from Texas, he ran on immigration when he first got to Congress. He often does his speeches where he may use Green Eggs and Ham...He may use a cartoon, he will use almost anything to kind of make more human these big complicated debates that you hear in Congress, and immigration, we all know, big huge issue. For him, legalization of the border is the number one point, and a cartoon gets it across perfectly.

      William Gray: This is President Trump standing inside of the White House with a list of regulations that is literally taller than he is.

      Sharyl: It was supposed to look complicated.

      William Gray: This is a tongue in cheek about, I'm gonna show you just how complicated Washington really is by making something overly complicated. To the same point of over complication, this is Phil Gingrey, Congressman from Georgia. This is also during President Obama's Administration, and this is looking at how complicated the health care system would be if Congress actually passed health care reform, which they eventually ended up doing, and so we saw this a lot. And it just, again, it's Congress pointing out that things are too complicated for them to actually explain.

      Sharyl: Do cute images tend to get more attention from ordinary viewers?

      William Gray: Cute animals across the internet always play better. Republicans, democrats both use them.

      Sharyl: How many charts have been used as best as you can tell?

      William Gray: We're at tens of thousands.

      William Gray: If they were beginning to be used in early 1900s, and I've got more than 6,000 tracking from just the 90s to today, and I haven't even gotten all of them, then we know for a fact these have been used for more than a century that we're in the tens of thousands, and taxpayers paid for all of them.

      There’s an official government office where members can go for graphic design where they actually print the charts. The last 115th Congress used well over a thousand charts, Gray says, averaging about $100 apiece. So over two years, in one Congress, we’re talking over $100-thousand dollars.