The primary goal of the Daily Show is, of course, to entertain, but it's safe to say that Jon Stewart and company also would like to push (or is it pull?) American politics to the left.
A new study, however, indicates that the program may in that sense be at odds with itself. Specifically, it suggests that the mocking, condescending tone of the Daily Show may result in diminished voter turnout among its viewers -- almost all of whom, as you probably assumed, are non-conservatives.
Richard Morin, in today's Washington Post, reports:
Two political scientists [have] found that young people who watch Stewart's faux news program...develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.
...Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University said previous research found that nearly half -- 48 percent -- of [college students] watched "The Daily Show" and only 23 percent of show viewers followed "hard news" programs closely.
...Baumgartner and Morris showed video clips of coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates to one group of college students and campaign coverage from "The CBS Evening News" to another group. Then they measured the students' attitudes toward politics, President Bush and the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
The results showed that the participants rated both candidates more negatively after watching Stewart's program. Participants also expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media...
In other words, earnest liberal bias a la Dan Rather apparently serves liberal ends better than snarky liberal bias a la Stewart does. Jedediah Purdy, call your office.
Michael Kalin, a liberal and a 2005 Harvard graduate, anticipated the Baumgartner/Morris findings in an opinion piece (headlined "Why Jon Stewart isn't funny") that ran this past March in the Boston Globe. Excerpts:
Stewart's ever-increasing popularity among young viewers directly correlates with the declining influence of progressive thought in America. Coincidence? I think not. Let me explain.
...Stewart's daily dose of political parody...leads to a ''holier than art thou" [sic] attitude toward our national leaders. People who possess the wit, intelligence, and self-awareness of viewers of ''The Daily Show" would never choose to enter the political fray full of ''buffoons and idiots." Content to remain perched atop their Olympian ivory towers, these bright leaders head straight for the private sector.
...Unfortunately, the rise of mass media and the domination of television news give Stewart's Menckenesque voice a much more powerful influence than critics in previous generations. As a result, a bright leader who may have become the Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson of today instead perceives politics as a supply of sophisticated entertainment, rather than a powerful source of social change.
Most important, this disturbing cultural phenomenon overwhelmingly affects potential leaders of the Democratic Party...
(If you missed Matthew Sheffield's Friday-afternoon post on the possibility that Fox News Channel will launch a "conservative version" of the Daily Show, go here.)