Senator Bernie Sanders currently leads Time’s reader poll for Person of the Year. And second place isn’t even close. As of November 17, Sanders has 12.8 percent of the vote while Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzi has just 4.9 percent. The small percentages do make sense, though, as there are 58 candidates this year, including President Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Drake, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, and refugees as a whole. And Donald Trump. The Time poll, however, isn’t much more than a popularity contest. Further, it greatly rewards a Janet Jackson mentality. That is, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”
Time first named a Man of the Year in 1927 (Charles Lindbergh) and began offering an online poll for readers in 1998. But the reader poll doesn’t declare the actual winner, as shown in its very first year when WWE wrestler Mick Foley won the poll while Kenneth Starr and Bill Clinton made the actual magazine cover. So Sanders has just gotten it right on the campaign trail, endorsing the legalization of marijuana and bringing attention to climate change, which has boosted his Time poll position.
Although the poll does not dictate what Time decides for the cover, readers have been taking it surprisingly seriously lately. Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with 16 percent of about five million votes. In 2013, Egypt’s General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took home the honor, beating out Miley Cyrus, who came in third place.
Cyrus’ third place finish is as well as a celebrity has done in recent history. So far, Stephen Colbert, who’s in fifth place with 3.4 percent of the vote, is leading the pack for entertainers. For something so meaningless relative to the decision by Time’s editors, it’s remarkable that they don’t do better. Caitlyn Jenner — who might actually deserve the honor — has received just 1.4 percent of the votes. Drake has 1.1 percent, Adele has 2 percent, and Kim Kardashian West has just 0.6 percent — only 0.2 percentage points ahead of another famous Kim: Kim Davis!
Even if it’s a product of short-term memory, Time’s reader poll is still a good way to gauge what’s gone on in a particular year. In 2006, for example, “you” were named Time’s Person of the Year… for using the internet. Hugo Chávez, in contrast, won the reader poll, likely due to a 2006 speech at the United Nations that drew quite a bit of attention.
So Bernie Sanders may not ever be Mr. Right President, but he’s definitely a solid candidate for Mr. President Right Now?