electoral survivor

I have a theory. That theory is that reality television has benefited the democratic process. I’m sure that seems like a stretch to you, but I have been curiously watching the really unprecedented hoopla surrounding the primaries this (and last) year and it strikes me that the press is treating the races very much like a Survivor-style elimination contest, complete with Tuesday Tribal Councils, post-elimination speeches, and Simon Cowell-like evaluations of candidates weekly performances by the usual slate of pundits. Add to this that there seems to have been a surge of interest by younger voters (those voters most involved in American Idol and the like over the past few years) and I think there is something to my assertion. Even the on-line tracking of the candidates mimics the contestant elimination tabulation of reality shows:

survivor tabulationelectoral tabulation

The reality tv elimination contest provides a model of evaluation and behavior that makes the political process more natural and straightforward to many voters. And, in fact, we have had a lot of practice following contestants over longer periods of time, developing allegiances to them, participating in decisions about who will survive, and so forth. Forget Motor Voter, Rock the Vote, and other purposeful attempts to increase participation. Reality TV may be the biggest political development since the advent of television.

Now if we can only get all of them to sing each week…although based on the success of the “Dean Scream,” perhaps that isn’t the best idea.

One thought on “electoral survivor”

  1. You really might be on to something here. There is a a circularity problem…I mean, the Survivor model was based on a Democratic model not the other way around. And the primary system has basically always looked like this. The abundance of information carriers shouldn’t be confused with additional information or additional coverage.

    However, the specific model of coverage–the CNN graphic you use above for example, very well could have arisen from the use of similar modes used for reality-TV models.

    And, there is evidence to support, I think, that activity in democratic processes reaffirms and amplifies future participation. It could very well be that audiences of American Idol–accustomed to voting–may be less intimidated, or even encouraged, to vote in political races.

    That’s the whole point behind elementary school student council elections, right?


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