The United States Capitol is bathed in afternoon light (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times).


Opinion: The influence of television on politics: Exploring the impact of “The West Wing”

Television may go under the radar as an influence in today's social media society, but its impact on politics cannot be overstated.
<a href="" target="_self">Neil Shah</a>

Neil Shah

September 8, 2023

Television has long been a powerful medium for shaping public opinion and influencing various aspects of society. One of the areas significantly impacted by television’s pervasive reach is politics. With dramatization by well-known figures, television has been able to tackle and shape issues regarding political discourse, polarization, policy decisions and more. Of all, the impact of “The West Wing” is enormous, and has lasting impacts on politics.

Created by Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing” premiered in 1999 during the waning years of the Clinton Administration. The show, which centers around the staffers of the West Wing, was innovative for its time and became an immediate hit.

One of the most significant ways “The West Wing” influenced politics was by making political figures human and relatable,  depicting their personal struggles and quandaries. By showcasing the challenges faced by the president and his staff, the show highlighted the complexities of decision-making in the highest ranks of government. This portrayal not only made political processes more relatable to the general public, but also created empathy and understanding for the staffers in the White House. As a result, it became easier for viewers to connect with real-life politicians and appreciate the weight of their decisions and the balls they have to juggle.

Moreover, “The West Wing” tackled a range of pertinent issues, from healthcare to education to foreign policy and more. The show’s storylines often mimicked real-world events, prompting viewers to engage in discussions about these topics. For instance, the episode “Let Bartlet be Bartlet” dealing with campaign finance reform might prompt audiences to consider big money in politics through their own individual lens on how it affects their democratic power. This blending of fiction and reality encouraged citizens to think critically about policy matters and even become more involved in civic activities.

The show’s characters also served as role models for aspiring politicians and public servants. The dedication, intelligence, and passion exhibited by the characters in “The West Wing” inspired young people to consider careers in politics. The show depicted the challenges of public service, but it also demonstrated the potential for meaningful impact and positive change. This influence extended beyond the screen, as several real-life political figures have cited the show as a source of inspiration for their own careers.

For instance, Jen Psaki remarked that she was propelled back into politics by watching “The West Wing” and the sense of civic duty it invokes. After joining the Obama Campaign in 2012, she rose the ranks of Democratic politics and became President Biden’s press secretary.

Shows like “The West Wing” having a substantial role in crafting public thoughts on policy and shaping civic duty. As technology and media continue their evolution, the interconnection of television and politics will influence how citizens interact with the government and engage in the democratic process.

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