The Negative Effects on Candidate Evaluation, Efficacy, and Support for the Media Are Intensified
From the (apparently infrequent) Newsvine e-mail newsletter I'm directed to Top of the Newsvine, which at this writing has "Daily Show" makes young people cynical about politics as its top item, which points to "The Daily Show" makes young people cynical about politics at Poynter Online which in turn points to Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy? at The Washington Post (Newsvine might have pointed directly to the column directly, but the Poynter Online post does link to other reaction) where I split off and do a search on Google for the study's authors, Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, and then the study's title, "The Daily Show Effect: Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth" and find a SAGE Publications link link to the full article of the study in question [PDF].
The lack of evidence directly linking exposure to humorously framed characterizations and perceptions of presidential candidates suggests that the effects are minimal. Although this may be true about late-night talk shows in general, we contend that not all late-night talk shows are the same, and some programs may have greater impacts on certain viewers than others. Several factors in particular point to the possibility that The Daily Show may have the potential to exert more influence on youth than other late-night talk shows.
I was interested in those who hadn't seen the show previously, since many the commenters on the Newsvine pointer seem not to have read the study itself, as they note (correctly, mind you) that many people watch The Daily Show because they are cynical, not that they are cynical as a result of watching The Daily Show: “participants who had little or no previous exposure to the show were affected more significantly than those who watch the program more often. For nonwatchers, the negative effects on candidate evaluation, efficacy, and support for the media [...] are intensified.”
The researchers expressed surprise that “ regular viewers of The Daily Show registered an increase in overall candidate evaluations after exposure to the CBS Evening News condition. This could be the result of preexisting cynicism on the part of frequent Daily Show viewers. In seeing the candidates outside of the context of the show's generally negative approach to coverage, these viewers might positively adjust their evaluations of the candidates.” The researches reject this idea (note the word "might" in the last sentence), and instead argue that “The Daily Show's influence on opinion is limited primarily to those who hardly ever watch the program. This finding is still relevant inasmuch as it demon-
strates the potential of The Daily Show to influence new viewersâ€™ perceptions of political leaders and the system as a whole.”
In the conclusion the authors criticize Jon Stewart for hypocrisy (his appearance on Crossfire came after the researchers studied the students' attitudes but before publication of its results) and, as I have done privately, for effectively trivializing some really bad shit that politicians get away with because it's okay to laugh it off (for example, Bush joking about WMD at the White House Press Corps dinner in 2004).
Marty Kaplan read the study too, and has commentary, noting that the authors don't say cynicism is necessarily a bad thing, that it can lead to increased political participation.