Many minor positions in government go unopposed, and when there actually is an election, it's very small scale. Statistically, election turnouts in countries without mandatory voting are frequently low, and few people take part in elections for anything lower than the highest executive office or legislative body, depending on where the balance of power lies in the Presidential-Parliamentary spectrum. note Since real-life student councils aren't worth much more than an extracurricular activity on your college application, real-life students are largely apathetic as to who is on the ballot.
But not in the world of fiction. No matter how meaningless the post, no matter how minor the job of selecting it, any job that requires an election will be treated as seriously as the election of a world leader. Even if the person in question is running for the position of garbage collector, expect the news media to hound their every footstep sniffing out scandal as if the person was a major celebrity. Furthermore, every person in town will be talking about their positions in great detail as if the election deeply impacts every facet of their lives. A work in a school setting will show the student body deeply concerned over the position of Student Council President. The candidates, all of whom are children, spend what must be exorbitant funds on their campaigns and the school allows them to hold massive rallies in a gym or auditorium, in which the entire student body will attend in their own free time to support their favorite candidates and take part in the leadership of their school. There may even be a parody of a presidential debate included. The actual election will even feature fancy voting booths just like those used in real elections.
If used for comedy, this story will take an intentionally pointless job and have the characters in the story (or at least the candidates) act as if their entire worlds center around it. It's a non-controversial way to satirize the actual election process, and also less likely to cause the storyline to become dated the way more contemporary political humor would.
However, many works will play this absolutely straight, never acknowledging that student council elections are actually boring, mundane events or that students rarely care about the results. School settings that play this straight often contain an Absurdly Powerful Student Council to go along with this illusion. A common menial position played for laughs is a campaign for dog catcher, a play on the phrase "you couldn't get elected dog catcher!"
- The student council election arc of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War has everyone take their positions a little too seriously (up to and including acts of industrial espionage). Shirogane ends up looking like a giant and threatening obstacle in the race, while Kaguya strong-arms and intimidates any potential threat to Shirogane's victory.
- In the "Portrait of a Politician" story in Judge Dredd, mass rallies are held over the election of the mayor of Mega-City One, which leads to serious riots, deaths, and mass arrests. The mayor is purely a figurehead position, whose authority is limited to suggesting legislation to the Chief Judge. In the end, the election was won by an ordinary orangutan.
- PS238 has an issue where the election for class president is Serious Business for the school's two Captain Patriotic heroes. They are the only ones taking it that seriously, though; pretty much everyone else gets bored with them very quickly, and in the end, they both lose in a landslide to somebody who hasn't actually been running, but who most of the class has voted for anyway because they like him more than the actual candidates.
- Judge Parker features a storyline in which Randy Parker runs for county judge in an election that receives significant coverage. His opponent gets reporters to show up as he's filing his intent to run and implies in newspaper-friendly terms that Randy Parker "isn't the marrying kind", but is downed before the election ever begins because his alcoholic wife attacked one of the reporters. The only realistic element is that this was the only opponent in the election, letting Randy win by running unopposed.
- Peanuts: Harshly subverted in You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown. Linus runs for student council president, making promises that the office could never deliver. This being Peanuts, Linus learns in the end that he's completely subservient to the faculty and can't implement any of his policies... leading to the other students accusing him of selling out.
- In The Strawberry Shortcake Berryfest Princess Movie, Strawberry and Orange Blossom compete for the position of Berryfest Princess, who is in charge of putting together the upcoming Berryfest. The two girls have a true "may the best
mangirl win" attitude about it, but their friends are incredibly torn up about which of them to vote for, with one of them even declaring the election the worst thing to ever happen to them. Strawberry even considers pulling out of the election just so her friends don't have to make such a difficult choice, but is convinced to stay in the race, and eventually wins by one vote.
- Election played this for satire, both on the United States presidential elections and the amount of seriousness that other people give to student council elections. The most popular candidate in the election is the one who promises to never do anything and make sure the students never have to attend mandatory pep rallies for student council ever again. At the end of the movie ultimately no one's lives are changed significantly by the school election because hardly anyone in the movie much cared anyways. The one person who is seriously impacted by it is the one who took the results so seriously he tried to rig the election to settle a personal grudge with the winning candidate, got caught, and lost his job, his marriage, and his respect in the community to the point that he has to move away and start his life over again.
- In Fantozzi Subisce Ancora the title character fears that casting the wrong vote at the impending Parliament elections will cost him his job, leading him to spend hours watching debates and political rallies until he starts hallucinating. It ends on election day, when Fantozzi enters the voting booth, stays inside for a long time, and only leaves after flushing the toilet.
- Old joke: why are local/academic politics so vicious? Because the stakes are so petty.
- In Around the World in Eighty Days, as the group passes through California they are swept up in a series of political demonstrations that evolve into outright brawls between factions. They wonder what high political office such enthusiasm must reflect, and are shocked when they learn that it is only for the position of Justice of the Peace.
- Subverted in The Belgariad: Nobody takes the Sendarian election seriously, least of all the candidates. Everyone thinks it is a ridiculous way to choose a king, and they end up with a dynasty of quite good rulers who don't take themselves too seriously. Further details: The election requires that a candidate have a simple majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately, there are 724 candidates on the first ballot. Rather than have a runoff election between a fixed number of the more popular candidates, the Sendarians simply have another election, with every candidate who didn't choose to withdraw still on the ballot. This process repeats for 6 years and 22 ballots, ultimately resulting in the election of King Fundor the Magnificent, a rutabaga farmer who has been nominated by his neighbors, has not spent a single moment in those six years actively campaigning, and who honestly thought that they had pulled him off the ballot years before.
- Subverted in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Rowley runs for social chairperson at school, and Greg decides to pay a bunch of people to wear shirts that spell out "VOTE ROWLEY JEFFERSON FOR SOCIAL CHAIRPERSON" (with one letter on each shirt) at the pep rally. After Greg spends all night making the shirts, he finds out that Rowley was the only student running for that position.
- In Homerooms & Hall Passes, the main characters are impersonating middle school students. As part of a bargain with another student, they agree to get her elected class president. They proceed to run an incredibly dirty campaign that includes false promises, blackmail, character assassination, and finally outright falsifying the ballots.
- Black Mirror: In "Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment", comedian/CGI puppeteer Jamie Salter is pushed into running in a by-election as Waldo, the profane character he portrays. Everybody on all sides regards the outcome as a given, they all know the Conservative party is going to win, but the Labour candidate recognizes that she will get her name out in the press for the next election, and Waldo becomes an internet sensation. The entire election degenerates into a complete media farce. Played with, however, in that the Conservative candidate — while a bit of a pompous dick — is not entirely wrong to point out that while this might be a small by-election, Waldo's antics are making a mockery of and potentially undermining democracy, thus making it an actual serious business.
- An episode of Blossom plays up the absurdity by even having one of the students involved in a Clinton-esque sex scandal and Ross Perot gathering a percentage of the vote.
- Played With on the Community episode "Intro to Political Science". While Jeff and Annie treat it seriously, with Jeff using the style over substance of real politicians while Annie is the only person in the room with ideas, no one else does. After Annie defeats Jeff by dragging out an embarrassing video of him and dropping out herself as she felt bad about it, the election comes down to Leonard blowing raspberries and Magnitude saying Pop Pop to everything. The winner is South Park (yes, the TV Show) with seven out of eleven votes.
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart parodied the 2012 Presidential Election using a "documentary" in which John Oliver and Jason Jones became rival campaign managers of two 13-year-olds running for student council. As the students were actual students, the segment played their rather blase reaction to student elections against the comically over-the-top seriousness of the adults.
- The very first episode of Degrassi Junior High featured Stephanie Kaye running for Student Council President as a way to create a more mature, popular image for her new Stripperiffic makeover. The conflict of the episode comes from the clash between Stephanie, her friend Voula, and her new friend Joey Jeremiah. The students attend an election rally outside of school hours, though it's not clear if they're being forced to come or if they're appearing voluntarily. Despite initially giving responsible yet overreaching speeches from Voula, Stephanie actually wins her campaign by letting all the boys at the rally kiss her and changing her slogan to "All the way with Stephanie Kaye." She also makes bizarre campaign promises such as rock music on the PA system and co-ed swimming in gym class. Amazingly, nobody in the school administration is concerned about a student council candidate essentially prostituting herself for votes. Furthermore, there's something strange about how Voula cares deeply about the integrity of the student council campaign, while Stephanie seems to think it's a popularity contest. Like they are in real life.
- In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Uncle Phil runs for a county Judge position against his old law school mentor, the current Judge, because he realizes that Judge Robertson is sleazy and senile (Robertson even admits he's senile). While a Judgeship is a very important position, the election still ends up receiving much more attention than a local race like this would in real life. Local media actually do polling for the race and cover it frequently. Even more, Robertson plays dirty and any bad PR for Phil ends up having a swarm of press covering it. In the end Phil loses the election, but Judge Robertson ends up dying at his own victory party and the Governor of California appoints Phil to his seat.
- The Student President election in one episode of Kirby Buckets — especially for Fish, who turns into "a political werewolf" at the mere mention of elections. He eventually develops an entire separate personality who urges him to "make Forest Hills High great gain". The position itself turns out to be meaningless, its only power being to pardon students.
- Hinted at in one episode of Murder, She Wrote: In "Murder in the Electric Cathedral", the son of the murder victim threatens the DA that — should he not get acting soon — he would see to it that the DA "won't even be elected dog-catcher next spring."
- On My Name Is Earl, Earl is seen betting on the outcome of a small African country's presidential election, which is apparently being broadcast internationally.
Earl: MOOMBATAAAAAA!!! WOO! NEW DAY FOR CENTRAL AFRICA!
- In Once Upon a Time Emma (a former bail bond enforcer) and Sidney (a newspaper journalist with no relevant experience) apply for the position of sheriff. Rather than picking a candidate based on competence, this turns into an election, complete with a debate attended by the entire town and one backer committing arson to benefit his candidate.
- Parks and Recreation: Leslie runs for city council in her mid-sized town of Pawnee against the heir of the local candy business over the course of an entire season, and it's treated like a presidential debate. She has the services of a powerful campaign manager, makes public appearances, and goes on a bus tour. The election gets considerable coverage on local news programs and even has a televised debate. (Granted, Pawnee is just like that.)
- The Patty Duke Show gets into it in the tenth episode of the series, "The President". Patty and Cathy are talked into running for president of the Girls' League, an organization at their high school. The ensuing campaign comes complete with mudslinging and the cousins stealing both voters and campaign ideas from each other.
- It will probably not surprise you that a TV show called The Politician plays this trope straight when its main character, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), runs for student body president of his high school during the first season. That said, Hobart's goal is to run for the office of President of the United States, and the show is steadily building in that direction, causing this trope to fade over time. It is shown that of the students at the high school, only the actual candidates and their campaign teams truly care about the election. There's one episode centred around a random student that shows that his concerns are focused on typical things for a teenage boy, none of which are the election.
- A second-season episode of The West Wing deals with the midterm congressional elections which actually are important, but President Bartlet instead obsesses over a race in his hometown in New Hampshire where the conservative he beat in his very first election to the House of Representatives is running for a school board seat. He goes as far as having polling done and wants to comment about it to the press before CJ talks him down. As with several other issues in the episode that the characters face, it's implied to be an attempt to deflect how he's feeling about the assassination attempt he experienced in previous episodes by over-focussing on something trivial.
- Kevin & Kell had three arcs where Kevin ran for office.
- The first was the office of "Recreation Administrator", which Kevin intended to run for just to ensure that his daughter, a carnivorous rabbit, could enroll in a predator-oriented youth league. Despite this being a pretty minor position (and the action itself likely not even requiring Kevin to run for office), the campaign apparently required campaign teams, rallies, campaign donors, and constant attention from the media (including front page updates) centering around the race for the position. The race quickly turns into a fight about racial purity and Kevin is actually brought down by a scandal that his wolf wife ate the wife of his opponent, a tortoise. In a Contrived Coincidence, Kevin loses the race, but his other daughter renders the results meaningless by producing the tortoise's wife, alive and bearing a half-weasel, half-tortoise child...thus forcing the tortoise to make the policy change anyway.
- The second election arc featured Kevin running for a school board position to roll back high-stakes testing (in this universe, the "high stakes" are a 1 in 10 chance that your child will be eaten alive during the test). While a school board position is a real position with debates and a need for a real campaign, the K&K still gets a strangely disproportionate amount of media coverage compared to a real school board debate. Regardless, the arc had a more realistic expectation of what Kevin could do and when he did win, the actual process of getting his desired change through was represented as sluggish and caught up in bureaucracy. note Ironically enough, at the climax of that story arc, both Kevin and his opponent Fran end up too busy trying to help Kevin's sister deliver her baby to pay attention to the election, and they only find out Kevin won after the baby is born.
- Kevin eventually faces a recall election due to carnivores (hoping to replace someone on the rabbit council with a rabbit they control) manipulating rabbit society into becoming divided based on whether they have ears standing up or ears that flop over...and as a rabbit who has one of each ear, Kevin is their prime target. The stress of the divisions between rabbits causes all rabbits' ears to look like Kevin's on the day of the election, and he survives his recall.
- Penny and Aggie played this mostly straight twice in two separate student council election arcs. The most absurd parts are how seriously Stan keeps taking it, spending what must be hundreds of dollars on t-shirts for his campaign (and he even gets people to wear them!), posters, a pizza party, and numerous rallies in which, of course, the students show up voluntarily and get extremely excited by him. Stan even talks about "the issues" as a way to throw his opponents, tries to implicate them in scandals, and actually throws his sort-of girlfriend under a bus all in the name of high school elections. On a smaller scale, when Aggie runs in the first arc, she seriously believes that becoming student council president was a platform for promoting world peace. When Cyndi runs in the second election arc, she spends massive amounts of time to stop Stan from winning by creating scandal, though it could be argued that since Cyndi just likes making drama, her goal isn't winning the election so much as screwing with Stan.
- A joke in the first arc suggests most students aren't even aware there is a student council, while a joke after the conclusion of the second arc has Meg compare being class president to dressing up a Barbie in a pinstripe suit. So there is some acknowledgement that in reality, student council elections actually are as pointless in Belleville as they are in the real world. It's just downplayed because the viewpoint of the core cast members (who take them deadly seriously) is the only one the readers usually see.
- By the end of the series, it's clear that Stan's focus on superficial things like student elections has simultaneously taught him the life skills he needs to schmooze with people to move up in the world while also costing him any meaningful relationships since he'll always treat them as less important than the appearance of being "liked." This was reinforced in the follow-up QUILTBAG, making it clear that at least for Stan's character arc, his deadly serious attitude about something ultimately pointless and popularity driven was intended to establish what kind of person he grows up to be as opposed to granting him actual power.
- Cracked made fun of the idea in If Every Job Was Decided by Election: 17 Campaign Ads
- Wayward Guide for the Untrained Eye and its companion podcast centers around an investigation into a bitterly divisive election for a single seat on the town council of a tiny, remote mining town. This election triggered a corruption scandal and eight murders that nearly split the town apart. Justified in that whoever was elected would act as a tie-breaker between those for and those against allowing a Mega-Corp mining company to do business there, and the whole thing was a plot by a murderous werewolf who wanted revenge against the secret colony of werewolves who needed the silver in the mines to avoid losing control during the full moon. It Makes Sense in Context.
- American Dad! featured Stan treating the position of church deacon so seriously that he even hired Karl Rove and put Roger into a cruel sweatshop when they discovered using Roger's alien breast milk in potato salad got Stan more popularity. And why was Stan running for this position? To get a shady parking spot at church. He even drags Steve off to Mexico to get an abortion after an alien egg gets Steve pregnant. Eventually the problem is resolved when Steve, kissing Stan's opponent's daughter, accidentally transfers the alien baby to her, forcing her family to move out of town to avoid the shame of her pregnancy. If this sounds like this trope on drugs, well, welcome to American Dad!.
- In Doug, Doug's opponent for school treasurer was the Mayor of Bluffington's son. The Mayor threw the full weight of his influence behind his son's campaign for school treasurer, driving a ridiculous amount of public coverage to a minor election. This proved to be an example of the Mayor having a truly skewed set of priorities since he was so focused on helping his son win his student government election that he neglected his own campaign for reelection in the world of grownup city politics. Naturally, this cost him his position as Mayor, and Tippy Dink was elected mayor (and stayed that way for the rest of the series).
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids have an episode where their school has an election campaign for school president. Unfortunately, the two leading candidates are running along racial lines to the exclusion of any other issue. Fat Albert and a white female friend are so disgusted by this use of race for political advantage that they decide to run on a joint ticket promising to focus on the issues and to run a civil campaign. It's apparently a sound platform considering they win in a landslide.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has Frankie tired of how Herriman ran the home, so she decides to run for the job. Bloo joins the campaign because — well, just because. Herriman, realizing that he can't win against Frankie on his own, makes a deal with Bloo to give up the race and become his campaign manager, and together launch a vicious smear campaign against Frankie. The election results in Frankie winning, but then giving the job back to Herriman after seeing him miserable as a supermarket bag boy. The pay being less than her old job and the bonus being carrots helped.
- Get Ace: The election for school captain of Funpark High is important enough for the candidates to be interviewed and the whole thing to be televised on the local news. Tina even gets a giant-sized parade float made of herself to promote her campaign.
- Johnny Bravo has the episode where Johnny and Carl run for litter commissioner - Johnny trying to pick ladies with it, of course. Though the serious business includes wacky hijinks such the inclusion of a pie as a candidate after a man answers an opinion poll with "I like pie!". Johnny wins, however since he doesn't understand or care about his job in the least his first order of business is to have a huge parade in his honour that covers the city in confetti, which he's forced to clean up by those same girls he was trying to win.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "Crusaders of the Lost Mark" involves an election for the student council president at Ponyville Elementary, pitting Diamond Tiara versus Pipsqueak. The Cutie Mark Crusaders view Diamond winning as a negative thing because she's a bullying egomaniac who will only make things worse for the school. Diamond Tiara ends up losing big-time when her pushy campaigning alienates everypony at school, including her Beta Bitch and only friend Silver Spoon. It turns out the reason Diamond takes the election so seriously is that she's afraid of being shamed by her status-obsessed mother, Spoiled Rich, and the rest of the episode is taken up by the Crusaders helping Diamond Tiara through a minor identity crisis. In the end, Diamond tells her mother off, uses her money and influence to get Pipsqueak's policies in action (namely getting new playground equipment), and makes up with her classmates.
- Rocko's Modern Life had elections for dog catcher between Rocko (who wants more fair treatment for the dogs) and Ed Bighead (who is afraid that Rocko would let the town go to the dogs, literally, and makes it no secret he will use his authority to be cruel to all the dogs and especially Rocko's pet Spunky). Through mudslinging tactics and an image makeover (basically adding shoulder pads on him), Ed wins the election, only thanks to new legislation, the job of dog catcher gets reduced to "glorified pooper-scooper".
- The Simpsons:
- In "Lisa's Substitute", Bart runs for class president and doesn't care, ("It's just a popularity contest") until Homer talks him into caring ("Just a popularity contest? Excuse me. What's more important than popularity?"). At which point he campaigns like a mother and everybody wants him to win. On election day, he, in hubris, throws his victory party ''during the recess of the voting period, and with all the other kids (including Bart) distracted, nobody bothered to vote - except his opponent and his opponent's campaign manager.
- In "Trash of the Titans", in which Homer ran for Sanitation Commissioner, Homer obsesses with winning the campaign and proposes all kinds of things he can't deliver, leading to him eventually causing the destruction of the town via trash.
- In "See Homer Run", Homer runs in the mayoral recall election as the Safety Salamander (along with 200 other candidates), but none achieve the 5% needed to oust the incumbent Mayor Quimby.
- South Park does this twice.
- The episode "Trapper Keeper" focuses on the kindergarten class elections elevated to the levels of Serious Business to parody the 2000 presidential race.
- "Douche and Turd" shows an election of school mascot, in which the "candidates" are a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich, elevated into unbelievable importance. Stan is banished from the town for refusing to take such a silly election as Serious Business. Kyle calls Puff Daddy, who takes his "Vote or Die" campaign to extremes. The worst part about the whole thing is not only did Stan's candidate lose in a landslide, but the election was rendered meaningless, because the point of it was to replace the cow mascot after PETA protested, and once PETA was killed off, South Park happily took back the cow mascot.
Vote or die, motherfucker, motherfucker, vote or die!
Rock the vote or else I'm gonna stick a knife through your eye.
Democracy is founded on one simple rule:
Get out there and vote or I will motherfucking kill you!
- Tiny Toon Adventures combined student council elections with a parody of Citizen Kane, casting Montana Max in the role of a pint-sized Charles Foster Kane and Hamton as a student reporter trying to learn the meaning behind the cryptic phrase "Acme!" uttered by Max. As it turns out, Montana Max actually said acne, because he was complaining about his acne outbreak.
- British county and municipal council elections have the full party-political machine involved in them, despite the fact that their actual influence is extremely limited these days; they have the power to decide how often the garbage gets collected, where the no-parking zones are put, and whether or not you can build an extension on the back of your house but that's about it. They mostly seem to use the posts as a sort of probationary period for future Parliamentary candidates.
- Local footing is of paramount importance in the French Political System, so national parties are heavily involved in the municipal elections of the big and medium-size cities and in the regional elections. The EU elections are the ones where they invest the least amount of time and resources, and also the ones where abstention is king.
- South Korean municipal assembly elections literally mean serious business as they are a way for ambitious South Koreans to gain long-term financial stability in a country that has a failing social safety net due to expensive children's education and real estates for residence.
- On 1984, in The Dalles, Oregon, 751 people suffered food poisoning after eating at salad bars; it was later discovered prominent followers of Rajneesh (later known as Osho) contaminated these bars with salmonella to help their candidates. The elections? For the Wasco County Circuit Court.