President Obama and the horse mask person: An investigation involving data and charts


(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Obama was in Denver on Tuesday and met a person wearing a horse head mask. This is obviously a pivotal moment for the country and the world, but with such an occasion comes a bevy of questions: What does it all mean? From whence did the horse mask person come? How often does such a thing occur?

As with anything, these thorny issues cannot be resolved with words alone. We must give ourselves over to the comfort of data and numbers, knowing that only through these avenues can we find salvation and providence.

So, onto the charts.

First, we tried to break down the historic nature of this meeting. How often have U.S. presidents met people wearing horse head masks? We looked back at the data from the late 18th century through the present day. This is what we found:

Okay, so that tells us about how often this happened throughout the history of this country having presidents. But what if we want to look at this from the perspective of how many people have held that office? This infographic gives us a better idea of how rare it is for a U.S. president to meet a person in a horse head mask:

It’s important to remember just how rare this is by looking at the sheer volume of U.S. presidents who have not met a person in a horse head mask:

What if you wanted to see how many U.S. presidents met people in horse head masks, but you wanted to see them displayed together in a way that showed them as a group rather than as individuals? Perhaps this is to your liking:

But maybe that doesn’t work for you, because we are creating charts here and there is simply no point in creating charts without creating a pie chart. So, here is a look at what percentage of U.S. presidents met a person wearing a horse head mask:

This post is the first installment in what will likely be a recurring Post Nation feature called Fun With Data.

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UPDATE: For anyone who is wondering, yes, I considered the Grover Cleveland issue. Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive terms, which made him the 22nd president as well as the 24th, which means President Obama is the 44th president but only the 43rd person to actually serve as president. I subscribe to the notion that since they were not back-to-back terms, Cleveland’s dual presidencies — which are counted twice — mean that he, too, could be counted twice. Some people disagreed, pointing in particular to the second chart; I believe they made a fair point, so I have updated that chart and the others showing the number of presidents.

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Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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