Did Jon Stewart hurt the Democrats in Election 2010?
Comedians like Jon Stewart took aim at candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Election 2010, and sharp political satire may have led to cynicism, suppressing the youth vote, experts say.
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In Ms. O'Donnell’s case, Thompson says, the satiric troops took it to a point “where a thinking person could not rationalize voting for someone so ridiculed.”Skip to next paragraph
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Sharp satire can induce cynicism, which helped to suppress the youth vote this time around, says Atlanta-based Republican strategist David Johnson. The power to inflict political damage cuts across party lines, he adds, pointing to President Obama’s appearance on "The Daily Show" just a week before the election, not to mention a spate of other pop culture appearances such as on Ryan Seacrest’s morning radio show. “The President just lost respect,” he says, adding that on the comedy show, “he was so somber and unresponsive to being funny that it just reinforced all the criticisms the Republicans had been heaping on him." He seemed out of touch and elitist, “not even able to make a joke on a comedy show.”
Even when there is no direct message, comedy has the power to do what political ads can’t do, which is cause people to think beyond the storyline, says Austin-based political consultant Matt Glazer. “If you don’t understand a joke on one of these shows, it will force you to think about the larger political context of the punch line,” he says. “So it can be an incredibly powerful tool for getting people to think about things that might not ordinarily engage with political issues or candidates.”
The sharing that today’s social media enables only amplifies the impact of satiric takes on public figures, writes Sean Theriault, of the department of government at the University of Texas at Austin. Pointing in particular to the O'Donnell campaign, he says “there's no doubt that the satire, the medium of Comedy Central, and the presence of YouTube helped the left advertise the ridiculousness of those gaffe-prone candidates," he says via email.