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December 18, 2014

Are Tea Partiers Gaming the Vote for Bristol Palin on 'Dancing With the Stars'?

by Gary Susman, posted Nov 17th 2010 11:00PM
Bristol Palin on 'Dancing With the Stars'There's been a lot of conspiracy theorizing about Bristol Palin's survival on 'Dancing With the Stars,' even after so many clearly stronger competitors have been eliminated.

The prevailing theory is that Tea Partiers, rallying around a mission they've dubbed 'Operation Bristol,' are gaming the voting system and favoring Palin -- not for her ballroom skills but because they're political supporters of her mother, Sarah Palin. It's a theory that's been cited not just by industry observers at outlets like TV Squad or The Hollywood Reporter, but also by the show's executive producer, Conrad Green. It even got an airing from ABC's Jimmy Kimmel. During his post-show interview with Brandy and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who were shockingly voted off on Tuesday despite having earned a perfect score from the judges on Monday, Kimmel asked the pair, "Do you believe there is an organized tea party voting bloc? Maksim, you're from Russia, right, you know about these blocs and this sort of thing."

Now, women's site Jezebel claims to have evidence that conservatives are exploiting a loophole in ABC's e-mail voting system to cast extra votes for Palin. Jezebel's evidence, however, is far from conclusive.

It's certainly true that 'Dancing' is more popular among Republican viewers than among Democratic viewers. It's also true that there is lots of anecdotal support among conservatives for Bristol Palin and partner Mark Ballas. The Jezebel article finds plenty of posts in the conservative blogosphere urging readers to vote for Bristol. That doesn't mean, however, that conservative voters are abusing the system.

Jezebel also cites the predictions on DialIdol that foresaw Palin and Ballas as this week's top vote-getters. But DialIdol bases its predictions on a measure of busy signals on the voting phone lines, so its picks are irrelevant to Jezebel's charge that Tea Partiers are jamming the e-mail votes.

That allegation is based on a comment at HillBuzz.org, where a conservative reader notes that, to vote online, ABC asks you to provide an e-mail address, but it's possible to give a made-up address, since there's no validation process. That security gap would allow voters so inclined to vote an unlimited number of times. Downthread, several HillBuzz commenters say they tried that tactic, and it worked. Still, that's not evidence of massive voter fraud on Palin's behalf, or that fans of the other dancers aren't doing the same thing.

Brandy and Maksim Chmerkovskiy on 'Dancing With the Stars'It's also true that each contestant, and each of the show's professional dance partners, has an extensive online fan base, as is apparent from the tens of thousands of Twitter followers subscribing to each pro's feed. Still, among this week's competing dance pros, Derek Hough (Jennifer Grey's partner) has nearly 84,000 Twitter followers, Chmerkovskiy has about 64,000 and Lacey Schwimmer (Kyle Massey's partner) has about 62,000. Ballas has the least, about 53,000 followers. Based on that unscientific count, it seems Ballas and Palin fans are more motivated to vote and vote often than fans of the others are.

Still, if Palin voters aren't driving up her tally just for political reasons, what other reasons could there be? Judging by comments on 'Dancing' posts here at TV Squad, Palin fans seem willing to cut her a lot of slack and give her an A for effort. They note that she's improved over the course of the season, and that, unlike the contestants who come from the world of entertainment or sports, she's done so without the advantages of any dance training or natural athletic grace. It's certainly possible for Bristol's fans to support her for those reasons without also intending their votes as a showbiz proxy election for her mother. But the two tendencies do often seem to go together.

If Palin wins, it won't be the first time (or the second, or third) that a 'Dancing' victory has gone to the sentimental favorite, rather than to the best dancer. Still, it won't be surprising if next season, ABC starts requiring e-mail validation for online voters.

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.

Do you think Sarah Palin supporters are responsible for Bristol Palin's survival on 'Dancing With the Stars'? Or that they're exploiting the system to cast extra votes for Bristol?

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