Elections and Wrestlers, Notes I

John Heppen and I have been reflecting on elections in which pro wrestlers run as candidates, as we move toward a model for understanding the place of wrestling and wrestling rhetoric in American political life.

So we are reading about Jesse Ventura in “Where Has the Jesse Voter Gone?” by Andrew Grossbach, Rusty Kath, Alicia Spencer, & Danielle Stuard.

Jesse Ventura was not a run of the mill third party candidate. There is little doubt that Ventura’s name recognition as a former wrestler, and also as a movie star, aided his political success. Ventura was an entertainer. Thus he was able to approach the campaign as an entertainer, while Humphrey and Coleman played a traditional game of politics (Frank and Wagner, 1999). Ventura’s celebrity status gave him the needed resources to start a political career later in life. As Canon notes: “celebrity status plays the same function as the base office for a career politician: a resource for gaining higher office and a stake that is not casually risked” (Canon, 1990, p. 89). Jesse Ventura’s high name recognition thus put him on the same political level as seasoned politicians. In a Minnesota Poll of the election season in February 1998, Ventura had a 64% name recognition—the highest of any third party candidate, putting him within the ranks of well-known contenders such as Norm Coleman, Skip Humphrey, and Ted Mondale (Daves, 1999). Thus, we hypothesize Ventura’s status as an entertainer greatly aided his bid for governor.

Other research suggests, however, that third party votes are not simply based on the candidate’s qualities. Rosentsone, Behr, & Lazarus present another possible explanation for choosing to vote for a third party candidate. They assert that voting third party is not due to party identification with a third party, but rather a temporary movement from the major political parties. When citizens feel a sufficient amount of distance between themselves and the major party nominees, they begin to contemplate a third party vote (Rosenstone, Behr, & Lazarus, 127). Wattenberg presents similar findings that the public may find the major parties as obsolete and thus cast their ballot for a third party (Wattenberg, 1993). These findings contrast Reiter & Walsh’s assertion that Ventura’s candidacy was a special circumstance that brought people out to the polls, instead arguing that those who voted for Ventura voted regularly, and in this specific case voted for Ventura as a vote against the major parties.

To what extent, we wonder, is the election of Trump like the election of Ventura, in that their celebrity derives in part from a shared history in wrestling?  To what extent was a vote for Trump also something like the energy Ventura received:

[T]hose who voted for Ventura […] voted for Ventura as a vote against the major parties.

For more info on this project, email John Heppen at john.heppen@uwrf.edu, or comment below.

2 thoughts on “Elections and Wrestlers, Notes I”

  1. Is it just that Jessse Ventura stood out because he was Trump-esqe and a third party candidate? Other wresters have been more mainstream. E.g Glenn Jacobs. Terry Gerin (Rhyno) ran as a Republican recently. Even Arnie, who was good friends with Andre the Giant, was a mainstream Republican.

  2. Hi,
    Well, honesty first, we live in Minnesota. So Jesse looms larger in our consciousness.
    But yes, as subsequent posts about this will make clear, there is something about Trump in that he managed to be something like a Republican and something like a third party candidate at the same time.
    But I love suggestions of other races [and of scholarship on other races’] that might help refine our argument.


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