New Study Links ‘The Colbert Report’ to Presidential Election Campaign Knowledge

It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing.

A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about campaign financing and the role of money in politics than viewers of other news channels and shows.

“It’s the first study actually showing that Colbert is doing a better job than other news sources at teaching people about campaign financing,” said Bruce W. Hardy, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the APPC. “Consistently, we found that Colbert did better than every other news source we included in our model.”

The study, dubbed “Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson,” was published online and tested “The Colbert Report” against CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and broadcast nightly news as well as talk radio and newspapers as sources of political information. It was based on phone survey data from 1,232 adults 18 years or older who were interviewed between Dec. 13, 2012 and Dec. 23, 2012.

Researchers said Colbert’s show increased viewers’ perceptions in that they knew more about political financing and also increased their actual knowledge, doing so at a greater rate than other news sources. Reading a daily newspaper, listening to talk radio and watching Fox News were cited as other activities that increased knowledge about super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, but to a lesser degree.

“Colbert did better than any other news source at teaching,” Hardy said. “There were two reasons. First was the narrative structure. He walked us through creating a super PAC and every episode was a continuation of that story. And second was the use of humor and satire.”

Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” has taken a critical and satirical look at the world of campaign financing since 2011, when former federal election commission chairman Trevor Potts advised Colbert on how to set up a political action committee.

Though a 2008 study of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” found it less effective than traditional news media at informing viewers about the Supreme Court nominating process, the current study suggests that the two examples are very different since “The Colbert Report” succeeds by allowing Colbert to play an activist role.

That study concluded that “Colbert’s efforts were educational, not just a proliferation of jokes.”

The co-authors of the study were Jeffrey A. Gottfried, a research associate at the Pew Research Center, Kenneth M. Winneg, managing director of survey research at APPC, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of APPC.

More TV

  • Ryan Murphy Pose

    Ryan Murphy on 'Showrunning As Advocacy' and the Post-Me Too 'Age of Enlightenment'

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Diego Luna Narcos: Mexico

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Offers First Look at 'Narcos: Mexico,' Trailer for Rev Run's 'All About the Washingtons'

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Virtual reality

    Nickelodeon's 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Go Virtual at Comic-Con

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Destan Arslanoski Stunt Performer

    Stunt Performers Say There's Not Enough Being Done to Address Risks of the Job

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Discovery Extends CEO David Zaslav's Contract

    Discovery Extends CEO David Zaslav's Contract Through 2023

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Janina Gavankar

    Eka Darville, Janina Gavankar, Italia Ricci Join North Fork TV Festival Lineup

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

  • Alice Wetterlund

    'Silicon Valley' Actress Calls T.J. Miler a 'Bully,' Cast Members 'Complicit'

    It looks like watching “The Colbert Report” can help viewers learn a thing or two about campaign financing. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that those who tuned in to watch host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization during the last presidential election cycle were better informed about […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content