Does 'Dancing With the Stars' Have a Political Bias?

Dan Clarendon
ABC/Justin Stephens

Dancing With the Stars waltzed into controversy earlier this month when ABC announced former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer as one of the “stars” of the reality competition’s 28th season.

Even host Tom Bergeron expressed his disapproval of the casting, tweeting that, months prior, he had met with the show’s new executive producer and had expressed his hope that the show he's hosted for 14 years would be “a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations” in Season 28.

“Subsequently (and rather obviously), a decision was made to, as we often say in Hollywood, ‘go in a different direction,’” he added. Of the producers, he said, “We can agree to disagree, as we do now, but ultimately it’s their call.”

Even ABC News staffers spoke out about Spicer’s inclusion. “It’s a slap in the face to those of us who had to deal with his baloney and the consequences of the ongoing lies and disinformation campaign at the White House,” one told CNN Business. Another — who said Spicer was “horrible” to “so many of us,” — added, “It’s disgusting to think he is getting on the show and getting paid by our company.”

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But is Spicer’s casting in the ballroom battle that surprising? Our cursory review of the full slate of DWTS contestants reveals other big names in Republican politics.

The parquet floor has hosted Tucker Carlson, a conservative commentator currently hosting a Fox New shows; Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who ran for the Republican presidential nomination twice and is now Secretary of Energy; Tom DeLay, the former Republican Party House Majority Leader; and Bristol Palin, daughter of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Then you have some openly Republican celebrities who competed on DWTS — e.g. Geraldo Rivera, Melissa Joan Hart, Candace Cameron Bure, Antonio Sabato Jr., and John Schneider.

To be fair, Hollywood has a reputation of being overwhelmingly liberal, so the list of Democrat DWTS alums is likely much longer than that of alums aligned with the GOP. But how many of the left-leaning contestants have built their career off being liberal?

Plus, to our knowledge, not one Democratic politician or commentator has battled for the Mirrorball Trophy.

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Is this trend just a coincidence, or an intentional decision on the part of DWTS producers? It’s hard not to be cynical when looking at the data. In the wake of Spicer’s casting, Variety reported that Dancing With the Stars performs best in red states. The magazine pointed out that the show’s 27th season posted its best figures in Nielsen’s East Central territory of Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, all states that voted for Trump in 2016.

Plus, eight of the 10 markets in which DWTS performed the best in Season 27 are located in states that went to Trump in 2016, with the strongest being West Palm Beach, Florida, home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

Variety posits that the show’s “conservative fanbase might also explain why Spicer is just the latest in a long line of right-wing and Republican contestants.”

This is not a new trend: In 2010, The Hollywood Reporter posted market research from Experian Simmons showing that DWTS is the ninth most-favored show among Republicans.

So does the show have a political bias? It’s hard to say for sure. We’re not privy to the producers’ casting discussions each season—and we also don’t know all the big names who have been offered a spot on DWTS and declined. But until the show starts casting Democratic politicians and other notables who make a living off leaning left, we’ll be wondering if producers are pandering to the show’s red-state strongholds.

Dancing with the Stars, Season 28 Premiere, Monday, September 16, 8/7c, ABC