Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Polls and Elections: Editorial Cartoons 2.0: The Effects of Digital Political Satire on Presidential Candidate Evaluations

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Polls and Elections: Editorial Cartoons 2.0: The Effects of Digital Political Satire on Presidential Candidate Evaluations

Article excerpt

On December 12, 2005, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists held a protest they referred to as "Black Ink Monday" in response to the cut of the editorial cartoon staff at the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun by the Tribune Company (Worcester 2007). While the protest was precipitated by the Tribune's cutback, it was also aimed at drawing attention to the more general trend of corporate downsizing of the profession. According to one source, there are now fewer than 60 full-time editorial cartoonists working in the United States today, down from over 200 in the 1980s (Summers 2006; Danjoux 2007). Many cartoonists, however, have turned their attention to the Internet as an alternative and/or supplementary venue (Lordan 2005, 166-69), suggesting that reports of the death of this particular genre may be premature.

In fact, political humor in general flourishes on the Internet, and this is perhaps no more evident than during a presidential campaign. For example, a two-minute YouTube video featuring John Edwards having his hair styled for a media appearance, set to the tune of "I Feel Pretty," has been viewed over one million times since it was posted in November of 2006. The search term "political humor" returns several millions of pages, depending on the search engine used, that feature cartoons, comics, videos, jokes, satire, and more. Most of these sites go unnoticed by the majority of people, but some are well visited. In 2004 the popular "This Land" video by JibJab.com was seen by over 10 million people in the first month after its release, three times the number of visitors the Bush and Kerry Web sites combined attracted during the same time period (Lohr 2004; "Political Networking" 2004). Although it was the most popular video of the campaign season (Darr and Barko 2004), other sites parodied candidates' Web sites (Cornfield 2004), offered high quality videos made for the Web (Darr and Barko 2004), or poked fun at the candidates by way of jokes, cartoons, parody, or satire.

But for all of its popularity, we know very little about the effects of online political humor. While it is possible that it simply entertains audiences, it is also possible that it might change the political attitudes of those who view it. This study builds on a small amount of research that examines the effect of various types of political humor. In it, I present the results of an online experiment conducted in late November of 2007 testing the effects of an online animated editorial cartoon on the presidential candidate evaluations of 18- to 24-year-old youth. The cartoon, created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Walt Handelsman, lampoons the six candidates who were leading in their respective party's race for the nomination by presenting them as participants in a faux reality television show. Consistent with the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of persuasion, I find that the cartoon lowered overall evaluations of the candidates. Extending the analysis, I show that the clip did not change the candidate preferences of respondents, and analysis of the control group suggests that viewership of online humor may have a positive effect on political participation.

The research is important for several reasons. First, political humor during the pre-primary stage of the presidential campaign has greater potential to affect people's attitudes and evaluations for the simple reason that most presidential aspirants are still relatively unknown at this stage. And, although the regular audience for online political humor may be relatively small, the potential audience is much larger. Especially funny political humor has the potential to spread virally (Darr and Barko 2004). In addition, in the midst of a presidential campaign many can find themselves at the various decoy, spoof, or parody sites that use domain names similar to those of the candidates (Cornfield 2004; Crummy 2007).

The study also speaks to how youth are socialized into politics in the digital age. …

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