The tiny town of Hartsfield’s Landing, New Hampshire was said to have a 100% voter turnout in 2002, with a total of 42 votes cast in the presidential election. Of course, the aforementioned election was purely fictional and the work of Aaron Sorkin’s political hit, “The West Wing.” Returning to television after ending 14 years ago, “The West Wing” premiered a one-off special for When We All Vote, a non-profit organization with the aim of raising voter awareness. In this special, most of the original cast returns to turn the season three episode “Hartsfield's Landing” into a stage play with a thematic focus on how no matter where you live, or how small your voice might feel, every vote counts. In between scenes we’re taken off-stage where a handful of different public figures such as President Bill Clinton, Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda and former First Lady Michelle Obama all ask us the same thing: to vote.
“The West Wing” certainly isn’t the only entity we’ve seen calling for action over the last few months. After a turbulent four years, companies, celebrities, social media sites and everything in between have asked us all to vote. In a Twitter poll asking students about their experience with voting, a third of respondents said they were first-time voters, with the same numbers saying that attempts on social media and in television to get people to vote had affected them. There is certainly something to be said about this election having the highest voter turnout since 1900 regardless of their reason for voting.
Whether or not “The West Wing” was instrumental in herding voters to the polls is neither here nor there anymore, considering the election has already been called. With Joe Biden being elected president, we come to the true relevance of “The West Wing” in the 2020 election.
A common critique of “The West Wing” is that it's too idealistic — that it tries to tell viewers that if politicians just worked together, everything would be fine. The White House deputy chief of staff on the show (Bradly Whitford) touches on these criticisms. After briefing the audience on the show’s COVID-19 protocol and the absence of John Spencer, who passed away during the show’s final season, he pokes fun at himself and the other actors for providing unsolicited advice when political experts and leaders should be the ones given the opportunity to address the nation.
Most of the accusations of naivety are addressed within the show itself. The subject of those in office, the Left, is both unwilling to break the status quo to make real change, and is thwarted time and time again by those on the Right who aren’t willing to compromise on leftist politics. “The West Wing” is less about how nice it would be if everyone worked together, as much as it's about the reality of the strain a two party system puts on real change.
This leads us to where we are now. Many younger voters voted for President-elect Joe Biden understanding that this is only the beginning of making change, that we must hold our elected officials accountable and that just holding office isn’t going to be enough. Near the closing of the first season of the show, after failing time and time again to make any real change, a decision is made to “let Bartlet be Bartlet”: to stop worrying about re-election and to instead focus on helping the people and solving the issues. Joe Biden has been elected and now we must apply these rules to our own politicians.