Oprah spreading the American Idol vote myth!?

This semester is such that I usually get home when Oprah’s on, and nothing else is. So I’ve been watching the show, something I usually don’t do. I caught the end of it Friday, in time to hear her spread what I thought was a long dead myth: “More people vote for American Idol than for president of the United States.”

Whaaa? I guess it persists because so many of us are too busy being cynical to think for a second. I fell for this at first.

First of all, a single person can vote up to 10 times from any particular phone line (or did they change it last season to any number of times?). I don’t think they’ve ever said on the show that a specific number of people voted, rather they say what the total number of votes was. So say 13 year old Stefanie, who just is so ZOMG over Sanjaya or whoever, has access to her house’s land line, as well as the cell phones of her parents. That’s 3 phone lines, and assuming a maximum of 10 votes per line, Stefanie will vote 30 times to make sure her favorite goes on to the next round! This is not 30 people voting once, it is one person voting 30 times. And while not everyone who watches goes to such lengths, and I don’t know what is the percentage of people who do, I bet lots of people vote more than once. I’m not even that big of an American Idol fan anymore, and I sometimes still vote 3 or 4 times if I think I’m rooting for the underdog (not that I ever voted 30 times). Multiple voting by one person alone is enough to seriously doubt the veracity of the claim that more people vote for Idol than do for president.

Second, 13 year old Stefanie can vote for Idol, but she’s not eligible to vote for president. Neither are all the permanent residents who likewise can vote for the TV show. Since virtually the entire US population is allowed to vote for Idol, one really can’t compare it to voting for president, since that is restricted to citizens who are at least 18 years of age and registered to vote.

Given these things, I was surprised to hear Oprah say with such an air of dismay that more people vote for American Idol than do for president. Until Fox or the company that tallies the votes for them can release data specifying how many people voted (not how many votes were cast), and how many of those would be eligible to vote for president, comparing the two is a fallacy.

Maybe Oprah doesn’t watch American Idol, so she might not know that they tally votes not voters. Though shouldn’t she know that anyone can vote for it? Oh well, what can you do? *Shrugs*