May 23, 2003
VOTING....Martha Paskoff writes in The American Prospect today about the astounding success of American Idol. Why, she asks, are young viewers willing to vote in huge numbers for their favorite singers, but unwilling to vote in regular elections?
Because a single vote doesn't make a difference? Nah, Florida put the lie to that, and besides, the voting on Idol was
very close. Because of negative campaigning? Nah, the nastier Simon
Cowell got, the better the show did. Because it's too hard to vote?
Hmmm, to vote on American Idol you only had to pick up your phone. Maybe that's it.
Nah, that's not it either. Maybe it's this:
Finally, American Idol self-consciously
marketed itself to young Americans, and political candidates need to
begin doing the same. This doesn't mean presidential aspirants have to
speak on glitzy stages, put blond highlights in their hair or employ
navel-baring campaign workers. But it does mean they need to address
issues that are important to young Americans, such as reducing student
debt, making home ownership more accessible and promoting tax policies
that will benefit those just entering the workforce.
closer to the truth, but still not quite there. I think a lot of young
people don't vote because they simply don't believe that it matters who
wins the election. Neither candidate is likely to produce the results
they talk about, so why bother?
Voting on American Idol, on the other hand, produces a very
clear result: the person you think is a better singer wins. And they
have a single available in the music stores within a week.
A candidate who want to increase support among young voters, then,
has to do two things. First, talk about things they care about.
Second, and more important, convince them that they can actually
deliver. That part is much harder, I think.
Posted by Kevin Drum at May 23, 2003 12:24 PM
I have a few problems with some of the assumptions.
...American Idol self-consciously marketed itself to young Americans...
On Entertainment Tonight, they claimed the success of the show was
related to using older songs, which caused parents and older adults to
watch it with their children.
For those who watched it, think about the demographics of the people
they talked to on the street. They had a broad mix of young and old.
In my view, they played to the spectrum.
...the person you think is a better singer wins...
If you believe the press reports, the fix was in for Ruben.
Actually, I think there are very few political lessons to be learned from American Idol.
If you believe the press reports, the fix was in for Ruben.
The only problem with that little conspiracy theory is that he was,
consistently, the best singer on that stage. Did the judges favor him?
You bet. They thought he was the best one up there.
Perhaps it's because voting for who you think sings best is
inherently less complex a decision than who you should vote for for your
representative in government? The number of issues you have to follow
alone is staggering, at each level of your life, and most people just
don't have or take the time to consider them beyond a nebulous idea of
what they want.
And I really do think that the ease of voting definitely has a hell of a lot to do with it.
I think it is pretty simple--the same reason people watch sitcoms
more than the news, or attend sporting events more than political
ones--entertainment is more appealling than politics (although, I will
grant that politics can be pretty entertaining). I see no big mystery
Not to nitpick, but Kevin makes a slight error in his wording.
I think a lot of young people don't vote because they simply don't believe that it matters who wins the election.
Unless I no longer count as a young person at 27, I feel I am
entitled to say that the reason about half the people I know don't vote
during the Presidential election and most of the people I know don't
vote in off years is not that they feel it doesn't matter who wins but
that it doen't matter enough. That is an important distinction.
Everyone with a brain knows that the two candidates are not identical
human beings - we're not choosing between Kang and Kodos - but young
people do a cost/benefit analysis and come to the conclusion that the
difference is not great enough to merit mustering the effort to vote.
The result ends up being the same: young people don't vote. Kevin's reasoning is too simplistic, though.
1. one vote doesn't matter. since most states are winner-take-all
with respect to the Electors, a vote for the minority candidate is
2. everyone knows politicans are liars. you know this even if you don't pay attention, and you know it if you do pay attention.
3. everyone knows the inertia of government is so large that it's
unlikely one person is going to make much of a difference. GWB may be
gutting things now, but they turn out to be important to people, they'll
come back soon enough.
friday quittin time $0.02
I think Kevin hits some important notes here in terms of perceived
lack of effect...but I also think there's something to the idea of
feeling excluded from the discourse. If you think about it, most issues
of specific concern to young people (education financing, national
service, drug policy, etc.) are pitched by politicians as parents'
issues. The whole discussion implies that the young person is not the
primary decision maker in issues that affect him or her very seriously.
It's actually pretty patronizing -- I can absolutely see why kids would
tune it out.
(I'm not saying these issues don't or shouldn't involve parents--and
they're similar for kids under and over voting age, of course. But if
you're 20 and you're hearing the debate framed in terms of what "we"
should do for/about "our children", well, you probably don't feel too
much like anybody's likely to take your opinion as the principal into
I wonder if it might have been due to who could vote. According to the AI website FAQ page:
Who Can Vote? Anyone calling from within Continental US, Hawaii and Alaska can cast their vote for the next American Idol.
That means if you could dial a phone, you could vote. In politics, there is an age requirement.
I agree with Goof that the kid vote accounts for part of this. Add
to that the fact that you can vote as many times as you want for the
American Idol (if your call can get through). Only once for the
Something like 25mm votes were cast for AI. Take out the under 18
votes and the duplicate votes and I'm sure it's a lot less than 25mm
adults voting on Tuesday.
But voting for American Idol is as easy as making a phone call. You
don't even have to talk to anyone. To vote in an election, you have to
register and go outside and stuff...
American Idol is yea/nay voting. People feel qualified to know what
they like. Much of political electioneerinng is designed to confuse.
Opposing candidates say the other is lying. They say the other is the
reason of our dire straights. They say say the other is going to bring
us to ruin. They are taught not to vote by the politicians themselves.
Of course, it could be that politicians aren't interested in having
young people vote -- or increasing the voting population in any way at
More voters means more ads, more money, more fudging and tap-dancing. It's in the politicians' interest to have fewer people voting.
It's like juries: lawyers don't want critical thinkers on juries;
they want dull, emotionally reactive people who are easily led.
An electorate of single-issue voters and morons would, I think, suit most politicians just fine.
I'm not sure I grant the premise of the article. How many young people vote in elections?
OK, that's about 8 million. Now, how many voted in American Idol?
Meanwhile, the same young people who have so regularly and
enthusiastically cast millions of American Idol ballots are, by and
large, unlikely to vote in real elections.
Um, millions. How many millions? Three? Twenty? A little googling turns up this claim
that "More than 24 million votes were received," but those weren't all
young people. I suppose if much more than a third of them were, it
would give us the Paskoff's premise.
A few points..
From my personal experience, AI was more of an all-ages thing, if
only balanced by the amount of old music sang on it. I'm sure it's not
just my experience that attracted a lot of older singers. (Actually
that's why I think Rueben won..he reminded a lot of older people of the
old days of music)
As it comes to political voting, I think it's strictly an issue
thing. And not the issues you would expect. Most young non-voters WOULD
vote Democratic, in my experience...except for Tipper Gore and her PMCA
comittee..and Lieberman's crusade against video games..and more and more
in Washington, both parties being percieved as being in the pockets of
the media giants.
There is some truth to this..(however the GOP are worse in this
regard)..but all the same, what needs to be done is the breech needs to
be mended. Some hot-shots need to stop being so damned condencending,
and start trying to make easy points with the suburban parental voters.
I agree with Bleh - the powers that be want as few of us to vote as
possible. The most valuable thing the Democrats could do would be to
start a relentless get-out-the-vote campaign immediately. The level of
marketing required is so easy and relatively inexpensive that it leads
me to believe that the only reason they don't do it is because they
don't want us voting either.
I think that the more politicians of both parties talk about
"prescription drugs" and "preserving Social Security" and "demographic
trends" the more it turns off young people. They could not care less
about these issues and they shrug them off. This leaves the politicians
chasing the votes of the people who care about "prescription
drugs"...etc. Vicious cycle. If the discussion were framed in terms that
young people understand, it would make a difference. For example: if
Social Security is gone, you may have to support your parents through an
extended retirement. If the budget deficit grows exponentially, it will
influence the amount of capital available/interest rates when you join
the work force. You get the idea. Frankly, a 20 year old has no reason
whatsoever to care about elected officials right now.
The first election I was old enough to vote in was Bush v. Gore, and I
chose not to. As Charisse addressed, unless you're over the age of 30
or so, candidates don't seem to take my generation seriously. When we
*are* addressed we're depicted as GTA III playing, MP3 stealing,
test-failing, sinful, promiscious dangers to the wellness of our
christian state. Hell, at least Bush ignores us, a Lieberman in office
is less desirable to me, a social conservative.
My disordered 2 cents