Elections as Theater

Mark Chou, Roland Bleiker, Nilanjana Premaratna

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Elections can make for great theater. Uncertain and performative affairs by design, electoral politics have been known for producing the type of twists and turns equal to the best dramas. Mesmerized, the public can lose sight of what it is actually important and realize, only later, that they have become a captive audience to the show. Yet despite the entrenched relationship between electoral politics and theater, political scientists have seldom paused to analyze the performative dimensions of the election process. Policy analysts may borrow heavily from the language of theatre to encapsulate the spectacle and uncertainty of electoral races. Yet even when doing so, they often fail to explore, in detail, how exactly politics is conveyed through gesture, production and narrative – in other words, those things which are revealed only through a performative or aesthetic lens. The purpose of our article is to highlight what can be gained by viewing and scrutinizing elections as theater. To do this, we argue that political scientists can benefit from a greater awareness of what is called “electoral theater”: a form of theater that deals explicitly with electoral politics. Understanding the dynamics at play can help political scientists understand that performance is a type of politics and that spectators can be more than passive observers.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)43-47
    JournalPS: Political Science & Politics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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