With Election Day just weeks away, I think we as a nation are going about voting all wrong. Instead of trying to get people out on just one day, what if we took a page from reality TV?
Folks like reality shows. If you doubt this, just look at the taggering ratings of shows such as Dancing with the Stars on ABC, Survivor on CBS, and of course the annual favorite, the parade of pop-idol wannabes who come out in droves to audition and then vote in even larger droves when the show takes to the air each January — American Idol on Fox.
These shows are ratings gold mines. Viewers watch, advertisers purchase time, and networks make out like kings. So why not put the election of our next president into the hands of reality TV viewers by creating a weekly show, where presidential hopefuls compete for your votes to become President? I am proud to introduce to you the concept for America’s Next Top President. After all, how much worse could our system of elections get? In fact, I will argue that on at least three levels, we as a nation could only improve it.
Higher Voter Turnout
Look at the voter turnout numbers. The last presidential election saw 5.2 million of Illinois’ residents cast votes, with more than 122 million people coming out nationally according to research and statistics from Dr. Michael McDonald of George Mason University. The record for American Idol voter turnout was set in 2005 at 32.5 million. While numerically this number is lower than 122 million, in reality it is not. Consider that near 30 million viewers vote each week for the contestants on Idol. Imagine if we had the nation following every move, word, thought and comment of our presidential candidates, and then they turned around and voted each week, for, let’s say 16 weeks. America would be better informed, more focused and more involved. Sure the candidates might just say things to get votes, but we should be used to that.
End “Endless” TV Coverage
Campaigning has become a bit ridiculous, especially during the 2008 elections, and 2012 isn’t any better. Politicians began declaring themselves candidates almost two years before the election is to even take place. Let’s tone this down a bit. If we switch from our traditional first Tuesday of November election day to weekly voting on America’s Next Top President, we will end the seemingly endless debates, campaign stops, bus tours, straw polls, primary election date disputes, and campaign commercials. Each candidate would get their time each week on the show, and thus the networks and news channels could actually go back to covering “real” news, such as the African AIDS crisis, the crisis in Syria, or the treatment of it people in countries such as North Korea and Myanmar. Or they could fill the time with more reality TV shows, which is more likely.
Reform Campaign Finance
Finally, if we switch over to this reality show format of elections, we could quickly and easily end the discussions and debates on campaign finance reform. Instead of fundraisers, special interest groups, corporations and personal donations, elections would be financed by the television program. Sales of ads spots and sponsorship opportunities within the program could provide the candidates all they need for campaign dollars. And it would also ensure that each candidate, regardless of their charm, wit or ability to soullessly sell out, would be given the same amount of money, creating an even playing field. This might even lead to having America elect the best candidate, not just the best candidate they were able to hear about because they were able to raise more money than the others.
The driving force behind this idea came from an American television icon herself—Oprah Winfrey. In 2008, Oprah came out and endorsed then Illinois Senator and now President Barack Obama as her pick for president. While it is not unusual for celebrities to through their support and money behind candidates, few carry the power that Oprah does, or that her television show did. Take for example her book club. New York magazine reported in 2001 when Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was selected as her next book, the publisher ordered an additional 680,000 copies to go with the original order of 90,000. As it turned out he never even appeared on her show, but the mere mention of him from her lips was enough to increase his initial press run by more than 700 percent. Imagine if we could apply that power to our elections.
Of course you would need a good host for the show, someone who was unbiased, fair, and entertaining all at the same time. Possibly even a citizen of another country who has no interest in the political workings of the United States. I suggest Simon Cowell of Idol and X Factor fame. He’s British, he surely would be entertaining on air, and most importantly, he would be brutally honest—something this country could use a little more of.
Chris Thomas is a full-time teacher, part-time freelance writing, father of three, and most importantly, a very, very tired man.
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