Back when I was still a reader of Magill magazine, one of my favourite parts of the publication was a section called the Magill Grill, in which politicians would answer questions designed to reveal quirkier, less known aspects of themselves. The questions were innocent enough – you would find out about the politician’s favourite book and film, and the album they would bring to a desert island. Slippery as politicians tend to be, there was a kind of joyous simplicity to the survey. At last, I’d think, here was something a politician could say with certainty, without any agenda pushing or anodyne double-speak.
While I enjoyed the surveys, I never presumed that it would be fair to see them as representing anything significant about the interviewee in a wider political sense. As it transpires, I was wrong about this – these questionnaires may be far more important in revealing true political perspective than people once thought. According to a new survey, if you want to know how left or right leaning a politician really is, or how likely they are to represent your views, your best bet may be to read an interview with them on their arts and entertainment interests.
The findings of the Zogby/Lear Centre poll, conducted to probe the thinking of Americans on the subjects of politics and entertainment, suggest that you can form an astute analysis of people’s political biases based on the programmes they watch, the books they read and the events they attend. Via a sheaf of statistics, the pollsters have come up with a formula which reveals the discrete arts interests of three sets of people: liberals, conservatives and moderates.
According to the survey, liberals like many different kinds of shows: comedies, news, drama, documentaries, arts and entertainment programming, and they are happy to watch a show that does not reflect their own value system. They avoid primetime programming, particularly game shows and reality television; they prefer instead to watch 60 Minutes, PBS, Comedy Central and The Daily Show. They like films, theatre, museums and galleries. They read books, prefer fiction to non-fiction, and like their entertainment to have a strong current affairs bias. They dislike sports but like MTV and VHI. They also play lots of video games.
Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that fictional TV shows and
movies are politically biased and they are strongly disinclined to
watch material that does not reflect their personal political
viewpoint. They believe much entertainment programming is in bad
taste; they prefer to watch business programmes. Their favourite
channels are Fox and Fox News; they don’t watch MTV or VHI. They go to
the cinema rarely and when they do attend, it’s usually to watch
action-adventure films. They like country and gospel music, but their
favourite music is classical. They prefer non-fiction to fiction, but
don’t generally read much anyway. They like sports events; they’re not
big fans of video games. Moderates, meanwhile, are in between on most
of these issues – primarily they’re simply interested in arts material
that doesn’t have a political theme.
The survey should have widespread implications for three groups of
people: advertisers, programmers and politicians. For advertisers, the
information will help them in targeting their audience more
effectively – anyone who thought it was a good idea to hang posters of
Philip Roth by the sports stadium can now officially hang their head
in shame. Programme directors will doubtless be intrigued to explore
further the notion that liberals will watch programming that does not
reflect their own value systems. As for politicians?
For politicians, the implications of the survey are clear: be careful
of the Magill Grill-style of questionnaire. Already, it’s hard to
imagine that the likes of Hillary Clinton would put anything on her
favourite books list that did not conform to what her political
advisors felt desirable for her image. Soon, though, thanks to polls
like this one, other politicians will follow – and instead of hearing
about the kooky play they found enjoyable, we’ll be hearing about
books and plays and films that are as bland as the politicians
themselves apparently aspire to be. What a pity.