I'm pretty sure that at the end of the show, Tom says something like "be sure to vote for your favorites if you want to see them again", not "be sure to vote for the best dancer or who you think is the best dancer". So yes, it's definitely a popularity contest and they encourage it.
Wash: "A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything."
Jayne: "Da*n straight."
-- my recipes