Ah, the final days of August in an election year. We’ve just finished with the Republican National Convention and I’ve avoided writing about it, even though it is a piece of television, largely because I probably won’t be able to write about the Democratic National Convention and I really feel that if we’re going to mock, er…um, talk about one party, we should do the same for the other. As such, our political content here remains relatively low.
Nevertheless, we’re about to head into a time of increased politics on television as we gear up for the election in November. So in honor of the quadrennial event, here’s a potentially probing question as we head into the full election season: Does the kind of television you watch have any relationship to your political identity? A new article in the Washington Post suggests that perhaps it does.
One of these men influenced the other, but it's not entirely clear which is which.
Some politics on television is obviously not a novel thing. It doesn’t take much more than a cursory look to realize that The West Wing is pretty much written by liberals, for liberals whereas 24 was a neo-conservative’s dream for how the War on Terror should be fought. Likewise, that The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report are the two shows that rank the highest amongst the ultra-left viewers shouldn’t come as a galloping shock to anybody. But what’s interesting is the shows that find themselves weirdly stuck in the electoral middle.
A&E’s Storage Wars and BBC’s Top Gear are both reality shows that feature a similar set up and are thus political brothers despite being slightly more preferred by Republicans and Democrats, respectively. Somewhat conversely, American Dad ranks only as “On-The-Fence Liberal” which may come as a surprise to fans of Seth MacFarlane’s other shows which tend to be more straight up left-wing. Also surprising (to me, anyway) was that ESPN’s college football coverage is ranked Ultra-Conservative. Given the right-wing claim that liberals vastly outnumber conservatives in American colleges, you’d think so many of them wouldn’t just stop watching all sports once they got their diplomas.
"Can you believe amongst all our liberal arts degrees not a one of us thinks that Keynesian economics is a viable solution to modern financial problems? Crazy!"
The reality, I suspect, is that most shows are comfortably in the political center in terms of viewership, for the simple reason that most shows want (and need) to garner as large of an audience as possible in order to stay on the air. None of the shows that are covered in the WaPo article have any particular political bent, so the only information we can really glean is that people tend to watch a lot of mainstream shows on well-established networks. Candidates may be tempted to mine these data for some kind of insight (President Obama not too long ago remarked that Omar from The Wire was one of his favorite television characters), but to breathe too much into them is obviously going to be folly to pretty much everyone who isn’t a marketing director looking for a big name endorsement.