Documentary Analysis: Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?

Topics: Voting, Voter turnout, Elections Pages: 6 (872 words) Published: January 5, 2014
Among all types of movies, documentary is the one that I am least interested in.

However, the movie Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore gives me a different view

on documentary films, especially political ones. It is very relevant to the class readings

as well as discussions, especially on the topic of Congress, political campaign and civil


First, the movie successfully demonstrates how a political campaign is

organized. In the movie, we hardly see a role of the Democrats and the Republic since here

is a race to Congress; Jeff Smith, Russ Carnahan and other candidates build their own

strategy, choose their own issues to focus on, and manage their own campaign

organizations. Those campaigns are described as candidate-centered campaigns. A

candidate-centered campaign is specialized into three different aspects: campaign funds,

organization and strategy, and voter contacts. And each of those features is colorfully

reflected in the movie. Because of the high cost of campaigns, fundraising plays a very

important role. Russ Carnahan whose father is a former governor and mother is a senator

has a financial advantage over other candidates when his family helps him to “nationally”

raise money. And it enables him to hire specialists from DC to organize his campaign. In

contrast, Jeff Smith has to knock every door and calls every number to ask for donation. His

staffs are mainly his former students and volunteers who have no previous campaign

experience. Another strategy used in both Carnahan and Smith’s campaigns is attack

politics. While Smith takes on the opponent by stating the fact that Russ has not done a

good job for the district, Russ uses a negative ad to spreads a rumor of a sexual relationship

between Smith and another candidate. In the movie, we also can observe many ways

candidates approach voters, such as the use of yard signs, public speeches, promotional

videos and especially the use of media.

Despite the fact that Jeff Smith has many disadvantages over his opponents, his

campaign seems to be very successful. A teacher who has no political experience and at

first is believed to have no chance of winning finally ends up being the runner-up. First,

since the election is candidate-centered, it provides newcomers like Smith opportunities

to come out and compete with experienced candidates. But in my opinion, Smith’s precise

approach to voters is what makes his campaign outstanding. Understanding the fact that

people barely know who Jeff Smith is, Smith knocks every single door as well as calls every

number in order to introduce himself, to talk about his purposes of running to Congress and

to ask for their expectations from a congressional candidate. This self-to-self style helps Jeff

Smith build trust in voters as well as prove that, even though he is young and inexperienced,

he is still a capable and promising candidate. He also asks supporters to hold coffees to

help introduce him to their friends. That grassroots strategy helps Jeff Smith gain more

supporters and rise from an unknown teacher to a competent candidate.

The movie is also relevant to the class discussion of civic engagement. Voting is

one of the most popular civic engagements and is considered as a duty of all citizens who

is eligible to vote. However, voter turnout in U.S. elections is always low. In the movie,

Jeff Smith and his campaign staffs are aware of this issue and worried that it can change

the election’s result. Therefore, they use many different ways to encourage voters to go to

the polling place. The staffs call supporters the day before the election to make sure that

they will show up and Smith even marches out on the street playing basketball to encourage

voters to go to the poll. In addition, volunteering is another form of civic engagement that...
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