Measuring the ‘Colbert Bump’: Do Politicians Raise More Funds After Appearing on The Colbert Report Comedy Show?

2008-08-13 08:39:00

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 /EMWNews/ -- Democratic politicians

receive a 40% increase in contributions in the 30 days after appearing on

the comedy cable show The Colbert Report. In contrast, their Republican

counterparts essentially gain nothing. These findings appear to validate

anecdotal evidence regarding the political impact of the program, such as

the assertions by host Stephen Colbert that appearing on his program

provides candidates with a "Colbert bump" or a rise in support for their

election campaigns.



    This analysis of one of America's most well-known pop icons of recent

years is conducted by political scientist James H. Fowler (University of

California, San Diego), who is also a self-identified fan of the show. The

research appears in the July issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, a

journal of the American Political Science Association. It is online at

http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/PSJuly08Fowler.pdf.



    While Fowler notes that Colbert often makes "outlandish" claims for

laughs, he also observes that specific segments of the program are devoted

to politicians and that politicians themselves have taken notice of the

Colbert Report's impact. Moreover, even a cursory analysis demonstrates

that despite being a comedy program The Colbert Report appears to exercise

"disproportionate real world influence" -- likely due to the "elite

demographic" of its audience. To investigate the claim of the Colbert bump,

the author uses data acquired from the Federal Election Commission on

fundraising by Congressional Democrats and Republicans.



    His analysis finds that Democrats who appear on The Colbert Report

enjoy a significant increase in the number and total amount of donations

they receive over the next 30-40 days when compared to similar candidates

who do not appear on the show. Specifically, Democrats who come on the

program raise $8,247 more than colleagues who don't do so on the 32nd day

following their appearance -- "a bump of roughly two-fifths over the normal

rate of receipts." Republicans do not appear to benefit at all from

appearing on the program; notably, they raise more funds in the month

before coming on the program while actually raising less money in the month

following their appearance -- hinting at a possible "Colbert bust" for the

GOP instead.



    While conceding that it is "important not to read too much into these

results" Fowler does also state that "one might be tempted to dismiss the

importance of the Colbert bump because it is just money." Clearly,

political fundraising is done for a purpose and the most important

consequence of any bump is whether Colbert candidates win elections. With

only the 2006 elections having been completed since The Colbert Report came

on the air, the upcoming 2008 elections will likely provide greater insight

into this interesting and humorous wrinkle in modern American politics.



    The American Political Science Association (est. 1903) is the leading

professional organization for the study of politics and has over 14,000

members in 80 countries. For more news and information about political

science research visit the APSA media website,

http://www.politicalsciencenews.org.





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