Can the fast-forward button rescue our electoral process?

So here’s my question: Could TiVo save American democracy?

Could the digital video recorder rescue this presidential election from the clutches of the billionaires who, cheered on by the Supreme Court, are trying to buy the White House to further their self-interested agendas?

The court’s Citizens United ruling in effect removed most limits on how much a rich individual can spend to influence an election.

Behold cause and effect: As Politico has reported, a small group of 2,100 very rich people have already donated $200 million to influence this year’s election. That’s way more than the combined total from the millions who give less than $200.

It’s as if the World Series pitted the Yankees against your Sunday slo-pitch softball team.

But here’s my hope: While, yep, that’s a lot of dough, it seems much of it will be spent in the traditional way. That’s on television ads featuring grainy photos of scowling candidates, as a voice of doom decries their various and manifold crimes against truth, justice and the American way.  Including, drum roll … RAISING TAXES!

Sure, you hear a lot of hubbub these days about campaigns using social media, YouTube and all that.

But powerful forces of inertia still drive mounds of money into expensive ad time. Too many campaign consultants make too much money that way; they get a cut of the total ad buys they place.

And too many candidates won’t risk unilateral withdrawal from the smashmouth TV wars.

Still, let me ask this: When was the last time you actually watched a TV commercial?

The other day my wife and I, DVR lovers both, were watching some TNT show (hey, they know drama) in real time.

An ad came on. I reflexively punched the fast forward button on the remote. Nothing happened.  Annoyed, my wife urged me: “C’mon, zap the commercial. What are you waiting for?”

We truly had forgotten what it was like to be forced to watch an ad in real time.

A study by an outfit called SAY Media found that 45 percent of likely voters say they hardly ever watch live TV anymore. They TiVo, NetFlix or stream. This makes them pretty immune to traditional political ads.

I should mention that SAY Media is an online marketing firm, with a stake in dissing TV. But this study seems to have some basis in reality.

If so, I’m hopeful. Maybe a large percentage of that billionaire cash will end up being frittered away on TV ads that fewer and fewer voters ever watch.

And that might leave more room for some authentic voices to be heard.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.