Tracking the Trump Trackers
A meta-analysis of how US news orgs are following the president’s political promises
Updated May 9 to review changes to status of ACA repeal promise and list additional trackers.
We’ve been collecting examples of “Trump trackers” since shortly after Election Day, and now that we’ve passed the Day 100 mark of Trump’s presidency, we’ve pulled together the most comparable of them to look at what they’re tracking, how they’re visually presenting the information, what kind of language they use, and what structural and design approaches underlie each feature.
What We Looked At
After sifting out trackers that were just landing pages, or that were tracking other things (tweets and insults, congressional votes, ethics-related promises, corporate filings), we ended up with a set of nine trackers that all focused on a broad range of promises Trump made during his campaign or immediately after his election. Two focus only on the promises listed in “Donald Trump’s Contract with the American Voter [PDF], which deals with the administration’s first 100 days, and the remaining seven draw from the campaign’s history and range in scope from 10 promises to nearly 200.
A close look tells us that even when trackers ostensibly follow very similar sets of issues, news organizations describe and classify the same promises in significantly different ways. Maybe more interestingly, they visually represent quite different degrees of success across the same set of promises—the effect of both clear design choices and their (sometimes unintentional) consequences.
Below, we zoom in on the way each tracker represents progress on individual promises, overall progress on the administration’s agenda, language choices in topical groups and in status labels, and how they handle two specific issues that have unfolded so far: the proposed Muslim ban, and the pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The AP tracks 38 promises in 10 categories, all taken from the 100 days contract. Each action is represented by a card that has a colored strip at the bottom indicating not status, but whether a given promise requires an executive order, a memorandum, or congressional approval. Hovering over a card flips it to provide a short summary of the issue but little other information. The status label legend at the top of the page doubles as a scorecard, and indeed offers the only summary. Overall progress is only measured by comparing the numbers in each status label, so there’s no real overall visual impression of the administration’s progress to date.
How They Group the Issues:
The AP organizes the promises into 10 topical categories:
- Climate change
- Health care
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Hasn’t started, In progress, Not Kept, Complete.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Halt immigration from terror-prone countries,”. Since the individual cards do not include status labels or indicators, the only way to see its status is by clicking through status labels at the top of the interactive. (It’s in “In Progress,” but good luck figuring that out.)
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: The AP considers it “Not Kept,” but the red color bar at the bottom of the card indicates only that it is an executive action.
Update, May 9: The card for the ACA repeal promise hasn’t been updated to reflect the House’s passage of the ACHA—and no promises have been updated since April 12. The app doesn’t explicitly state that it will no longer be updated after Trump’s 100th day (April 29) but that looks likely.
Tracking Trump’s Agenda, Step by Step—The New York Times
The NYT’s tracker lays out 10 “major priorities” from the campaign and administration communications and tracks progress toward achieving them, with updates whenever a specific piece of the agenda moves forward. Progress is quantified in the legal steps (along one possible path) of each promise—except the last section, which is a list of reversed Obama policies.
Largely because of the visual weight given to nominating a Supreme Court justice and appointing cabinet members, the tracker gives the overall impression that Trump’s administration is humming along on its major priorities.
How They Group the Issues: The NYT doesn’t use any topical categories or labels.
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: They don’t—it’s visual cues only.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Suspend immigration from what Mr. Trump calls ‘terror-prone regions.’” The issue’s progress bar is three quarters full, as each setback has resulted in the addition of a new segment to the bar—as a result, it offers a visual impression of being mostly completed.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: Visually, the bill’s status is marked as a failure by a small orange “x” before its title. Two-fifths of its progress bar sections have been filled in, so the overall visual impression is that it’s in progress but incomplete.
Update, May 9: The Times’ progress bar design made it difficult to represent a stall-out like the one we saw for the ACA repeal earlier this spring, but is better at representing the current status of the promise. The little orange “x” has disappeared and the promise appears to be moving along.
CNN offers a progress-bar-style indicator for each of 29 promises drawn from “hundreds of promises, pledges and threats” made during the campaign. Each promise is represented by a clickable title and an unlabeled progress bar. Clicking a headline produces a pop-out box with info about the promise, including a visual representation of its path to completion. Overall, the visuals suggest that the administration is moving slowly on its key promises, with most progress bars left entirely unfilled, only one completed, and one (the ACA repeal) marked with a warning icon.
How They Group the Issues: They don’t.
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: CNN doesn’t use any text-based status labels.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: “Halt Muslim entry into US”—status is visually indicated as being in progress and more than halfway toward completion.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: The card for this item has a red alert symbol, and the progress bar is less than one-quarter filled. The tracker clearly represents the attempt as imperiled and stalled, if not permantly blocked.
Update, May 9: The alert symbol has disappeared from the ACA repeal’s card, and the progress bar has chugged along a bit.
Trump Promise Tracker—Washington Post
The Post clearly states what they’re doing at the top of their tracker: “It’s day 103 of the Trump administration with 1,359 days left in his term. We’re tracking the progress of 60 pledges he made during his campaign—and whether he achieved his goals.”
At the very top, there’s a subtly presented doughnut chart and a text dashboard of how many promises fall into which status categories. The promises are filterable by issue and status and sortable by recently updated or “promised deadline.” Each individual promise is represented by a card with its status color-coded across the top. Cards for issues with deadlines include both the deadline date and, when relevant, a note that the deadline has passed. When expanded, cards show “Fact Checker analysis” and links to related reporting.
The overall impression is one of mixed progress on the promises the administration has begun to work on, with the majority unstarted.
How They Group the Issues:
The Post organizes the promises into 10 topical categories:
- Government process
- Health care
- National security
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Not yet rated, Launched, Stuck, Compromise, Promises kept, Promises broken.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s titled “Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and the status is listed as “Stuck” with a deadline of Jan. 23, 2017, noted as “passed.”
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: The promise’s card is color-coded red and listed as “Promise broken” with a passed deadline of April 29, 2017.
Update, May 9: The status on this promise’s card has changed from “Broken” to “Launched.” Was there an “unbreak my promise” option in the back end? We live in hope. The passed April 29 deadline has been held over in red. The color-coding for the card is now yellow.
The Trump Promise Tracker—The Atlantic
The Atlantic tracks 35 promises from throughout the campaign across 5 categories, presented as structured text with a long, prosey intro from David Graham. The copy does the work here, but there is nevertheless a cohesive structure and a scoreboard approach. Also the most interesting statuses.
How They Group the Issues:
The Atlantic organizes the promises into five topical categories:
- Domestic Policy
- Foreign Policy and Security
- Trade and Economy
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Inactive, In Progress, Dubious, Frozen, Doomed, Broken, Complete.
What They Call the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Ban Muslim Immigration, or Institute Extreme Vetting for Refugees” and the status is “Frozen.” The “Outlook” section on this promise—a section that’s unique to the Atlantic’s tracker–suggests that the promise will be difficult to fulfill.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: The status is listed as “Dubious,” with a mixed outlook.
Update, May 9: The ACA repeal section hasn’t been updated since April 27.
Donald Trump Promise Tracker—ABC News
ABC News tracks 13 promises from throughout Trump’s campaign, each of which has its own photo (of Trump) and broadcast-style graphic with gradients and drop-shadows and a sort-of progress bar along the bottom, with stoplight-colored coding by status. Under each header graphic is a series of lively prose updates in chronological order, based on the White House’s own description of its progress.
With the “In progress” category coded an optimistic green, the unified scorecard image is overwhelmingly positive, with 11 of 13 promises listed as “Kept” (1) or “In progress” (10).
How They Group the Issues: They don’t.
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Untouched, Discussed, Changed, Unclear, In Progress, Broken, Kept.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Muslim Ban” and has the dual status of “Changed” (coded yellow) and “In progress” (colored green).
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: It’s marked unequivocally as “Broken” and hasn’t been updated since March 24, 2017—the last update is marked “Defeat.”
Update, May 9: As at the Washington Post, the ACA repeal promise has been unbroken at ABC News, where it is now listed as being “In Progress.”
Fact-checking specialists Politifact are tracking 101 campaign promises, each with a color-coded progress bar that is also labeled with a status and a Trump head. There’s also a pie chart called a “scorecard” which gives the percentage of each status with—excitingly!—colors that are unrelated to the colors used in the progress bars assigned to each promise.
The promises/issues here are not categorized in any way, and many of the “updates” are incremental articles written to say that nothing has happened. Clicking on any promise leads to a page with articles about that promise’s progress and autoplaying video of Trump speaking about the issue.
The scorecard at the top offers—if you read the labels carefully—an impression that most of the tracked promises are either not yet started or are in progress, with the next biggest category being “Stalled,” which shows up here, inexplicably, as a bright grassy green. It is not a great pie chart.
How They Group the Issues: Politifact doesn’t categorize their tracked promises.
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Not yet rated, In the Works, Stalled, Compromise, Promise Broken, Promise Kept.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Establish a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.” and is listed as “stalled”/coded yellow.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: It’s coded yellow and listed as “Stalled.”
Update, May 9: At Politifact, the ACA repeal has moved from “Stalled” to “In the works.” Their relatively flexible status-labeling system makes this change clear and non-awkward.
This non-news-org effort features a topically arranged list of 44 promises/action items from the 100 days contract, with an expandable vertical timeline at the top showing action on various items, and, as of this week, a prose summary of the administration’s progress in each policy area to date. Each item is characterized in the language of the contract, but cleaned up and simplified. Clicking on any promise expands it, card-style, to show text updates on the issue.
The site doesn’t offer a summary/scorecard, or any way to filter by status. Scrolling down the page, the visual impression is mostly yellow-grey color coding, which indicates “In progress” and (apparently) things that haven’t yet been rated.
How They Group the Issues:
The tracker organizes the promises into eight topical categories:
- Economic Policy
- Energy & Climate
- Federal Government
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: In progress, Nothing, Failed, Implemented.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Suspend immigration from ‘terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur,’” and it’s listed as “In progress.” The last update is from March 6.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: It’s listed as “In progress.”
Update, May 9: The site appears to have gone static as of April 29, and no updates have been made to the ACA repeal section.
The eponymous indie project Trump Tracker tracks 175 promises made during Trump’s campaign, organized by topic, and indicates their current status with footnote-style links out. This tracker attempts to be comprehensive, covering all recorded campaign promises, stated in something close to the original language. The entire project is open sourced at GitHub, where there are 25 contributors to date.
The scorecard at the top suggests that most actions haven’t begun for most promises, and that many more are in progress.
How They Group the Issues:
The tracker organizes the promises into 10 topical categories plus one time-based category (“First 100 Days”):
How They Label Each Issue’s Status: Not Started, In Progress, Compromised, Broken, Achieved.
How They Represent the “Muslim Ban”: It’s called “Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and it’s listed as “Achieved,” which makes this tracker the outlier—no others consider the ban to have been achieved.
How They Represent the ACA Repeal: This promise is listed as broken, and a duplicate promise elsewhere on the site is listed as “Not started.”
Update, May 9: The ACA repeal promise is listed as “Broken,” with the following note: “This promise was marked as broken because it was not fulfilled within 100 days. It will be marked as compromised when it is executed.” This tracker is the only one of those we reviewed to maintain that the repeal promise has been broken because it wasn’t completed in its entirety by April 29, 2017.
Trump Trackers We Didn’t Analyze
“Trump trackers” come in every flavor, and we couldn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison of the many trackers that are more specialized, or that are essentially topical landing pages. We’re including our full list collected to date, though, and it will likely grow. If we missed your favorite, please do add it in the comments.
- NBC News: A landing page with a tabbed interface collecting news stories re: specific categories of promises. At the 100-day mark, NBC News did a summary that included status updates on major promises, which makes this site section feel more like the status-trackers discussed above and less like a straight landing page.
- Quartz: Ten regularly updated charts tracking economic progress under the Trump administration.
- NPR: An ethics monitor, tracks promises related to ethics exclusively—10 promises arranged on the page by status, none yet resolved.
- The Guardian: Daily briefs from the first 100 days plus an irreverent scoreboard of Trump actions and behaviors.
- Bloomberg: List of stories arranged by day in a characteristically snarky design package.
- BBC: Not an interactive—essentially a topical landing page with text and charts.
- Fox News: Tweets, pictures, meetings—essentially a feed of press releases in an attractive timeline.
- FiveThirtyEight: Tracks congressional votes.
- Sentieo: Tracks Trump and family’s appearance in corporate filings/records.
Why Watch the Details?
As news organizations consider how and when to subvert the model of the incremental story, it’s a useful moment to consider how long-term editorial thinking and design work together. Even small initial design decisions affect the way essential information appears—and over time, as interactives live longer and longer lives, these choices add up and create their own meanings.
We’re always looking for more contributors to break down design choices and processes, or write up a project walkthrough. Pitch us with your thoughts and work. We’re standing by.
Editor, Source, 2012-2018.