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For ‘West Wing’ fans, Santos is their man

Smits' Democratic ‘candidate’ favored over Alda's Vinick in Zogby poll
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Rep. Matthew Santos (D-Texas) should be the next President of the United States, according to the latest Zogby International poll.

Say what? Representative who?

If you are a regular watcher of NBC's “The West Wing,” you know that Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) is the Democratic candidate running against Republican Senator Arnold Vinick of California (Alan Alda) for the fictional presidency. The two “candidates” will engage in a live debate Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET (NBC also will broadcast a live West Coast version of the debate).

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

In advance of Sunday's debate, Zogby International, the national polling company, conducted a pre-debate poll. The poll, which surveyed 4,492 viewers, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, asked questions ranging from specifics about the show and outgoing President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) to the respondents’ beliefs about liberal bias in the media and on TV.

“Presidential races, fact or fiction, captivate millions of Americans. This one, though fictional, is the story of two ideal-type candidates, representing two distinct world views and parties, and two compelling personas. I wouldn’t miss this one for the world,” said Zogby CEO and founder John Zogby.

According the poll, most “West Wing” watchers favor Rep. Santos' world view. If the “election” were held today, 59 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Democrat, and 72 percent believe Santos will win the election on the show. Thirty-two percent of viewers believe Santos' election will make for better ratings and 27 percent believe the political biases of the writers will affect the outcome.

In terms of overall impression, Alda's Vinick received a highly favorable rating from 18.9 percent of respondents and is viewed as somewhat favorable with 55.6 percent of fans. Meanwhile, 42 percent of fans rated Santos as highly favorable and almost 46 percent said he was somewhat favorable.

Slightly more than 66 percent of respondents believe Santos would be more likely to pull over and help them if they were stranded on the side of the road (only 10 percent though Vinick would) and 52 percent would like to have dinner with the Texas Democrat (35 percent would prefer the California Republican).

Santos and Vinick are campaigning to replace Bartlet, the two-term Democratic president played by Sheen. Though Bartlet has faced numerous troubles during his administration, he is well-liked by viewers, earning a stratospheric 75 percent job approval rating in the poll.

Zogby also asked respondents about politics in general, and specifically whether or not they believe the media and Hollywood has a liberal bias.

When asked if they thought the storylines on “The West Wing” were purely entertainment or  relate to the political agenda of the producers, almost 58 percent thought the show's creators were trying to promote their own political beliefs, while 28 percent thought it was just entertainment. However, 57 percent don't believe the storylines on the show have influenced real politics in America. Forty-one percent say they prefer watching the real political process to the fictitious one on the show.

Close to 77 percent believe a liberal political bias is reflected on the show, and 51 percent think the national media leans toward the left in its coverage.