Does turnout in reality TV shows exceed that in elections?

After Mark debunked the American election turnout myth, Hywel points out some harsh realities about voter turnout in reality shows.

An often cited reason for gimmicks like online, text and phone voting in public elections is that more people vote when voting is easier. Any security concerns are often waved away with claims that “more people vote in Big Brother etc” than in public elections, particularly local elections.

If such claims are to be used as the basis for significant changes to elections then their basis needs examining closely

Take Saturday’s X Factor semi-final. If you regard the electorate as the audience, this averaged 9.7 million and peaked at 11 million.

Rarely for a reality show (at least in my limited experience), the total votes cast were declared. A total of “over two million” votes were received. (for the purposes of estimates this has been generously estimated at 2.75 million). That assumes that each person voted only once, something which on anecdotal evidence alone seems unlikely.

So how does that turnout compare:

General election 2005 – 61.4%
Local elections 2007 – 38.1%
Local elections 2008 – 38%
X factor semi final – 28.3% (average audience) 25% (peak audience)

(Source for election turnouts, House of Commons library papers)

Hywel Morgan is a serial abstainer, having not voted in a reality TV show since Craig in BB1. They’re all the same, you can’t trust any of them, doesn’t matter who you vote for nothing changes, etc, etc.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Cheltenham Robin 12th Dec '08 - 9:17pm

    However, I can’t see Simon Cowell getting to grips with STV somehow.

  • Hywel Morgan 14th Dec '08 - 4:18pm

    Saturday’s final apparently had 8 million votes cast in the final with an average audience of 13.2 million – that comes out at about 60% if you total it up though the voting was in two stages.

    Is seems to be Strictly Come Dancing that is in greater need of electoral reform!

  • I imagine that if you changed the rules to allow any voter to vote as many times as they liked in public elections (which is the same rule as reality TV shows) then turnout would be well over 100%.

  • Michael Fisher 17th Jan '20 - 2:00am

    you have to pay to vote on a reality show you don’t with general elections. don’t really understand why people would want to pay 2 quid per text or what ever , especially when they have already forked out for a licence to pay for the show in the first place, still…

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