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Baumgartner , Morris / The American Politics Research Daily Show Effect 10.1177/1532673X05280074

The Daily Show Effect
Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth
Jody Baumgartner Jonathan S. Morris
East Carolina University

American Politics Research Volume 34 Number 3 May 2006 341-367 © 2006 Sage Publications 10.1177/1532673X05280074 http://apr.sagepub.com hosted athttp://online.sagepub.com

We test the effects of a popular televised source of political humor for young Americans: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. We find that participants exposed to jokes about George W. Bush and John Kerry on The Daily Show tended to rate both candidates more negatively, even when controlling for partisanship and other demographic variables. Moreover, we find that viewers exhibit morecynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large. Despite these negative reactions, viewers of The Daily Show reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics. Our findings are significant in the burgeoning field of research on the effects of “soft news” on the American public. Although research indicates that soft news contributes todemocratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation. Keywords: media and politics; political campaigns; The Daily Show;

infotainment; political information; young voters; politicalsocialization

Introduction: Soft News and The Daily Show
There is some ambiguity among political communications scholars in defining soft news (Baum, 2003b; Hamilton, 2004; Patterson, 2000), but there is a consensus that soft-news programming shares certain characteristics. Compared with traditional hard news, these programs feature lower levels of public affairs information and focus more ondrama, sensationalism, human interest themes, and personalities (Baum, 2002, 2003b; Patterson, 2000). Although most modern traditional news programs possess both hard


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and soft elements, the distinction is that soft-news programming is found in the latter’s emphasis on entertainment. Soft news includes several types of programs: network and cablenewsmagazine shows, entertainment and tabloid newsmagazine shows, and daytime and late-night talk shows (Baum, 2003b). Although daytime talk shows (e.g., The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil) tend to take more of a human interest approach to entertainment, late-night talk shows (e.g., The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Late Show With David Letterman), especially in the monologue segments of the programs, aremore humor oriented. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart fits into this subcategory (Baum, 2003b, p. 119). As soft-news programming has become more prevalent, scholars have begun to examine how it influences the public. Many have argued that soft news threatens the integrity of the democratic process by overemphasizing trivial events, downplaying significant public affairs issues, and oversimplifyingthe complex reality of these issues (Fallows, 1996; Kalb, 2001; Patterson, 2000). For instance, Hollander (1995) found that exposure to entertainment-based talk programs artificially inflated viewers’ perceptions of their own political knowledge. However, recent research by Baum (2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2005) has challenged this notion. He argues that soft news creates a more knowledgeable citizenryby educating an inattentive public that would not otherwise follow traditional hard news. His research indicates that politically inattentive citizens gather valuable information as an “incidental by-product” of exposure to soft news, especially regarding significant foreign policy events (Baum, 2003b, p. 30). Thus, watching entertainmentbased programming can contribute to political learning....