Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Jeffrey Grynaviski

Abstract

Political comedy is the one off-line news source – albeit soft news – that young adults access in higher rates than older adults. They are tuning into political comedy to be entertained, but while watching, they also get a healthy dose of politics. For otherwise apolitical young people, does exposure to politics in this format heighten their political interest? Does it make them more politically knowledgeable citizens? Through a 4-weeklong experiment, this study tests the effects of exposure to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on political interest and political knowledge in a sample of community college students in mid-Michigan. Changes in attitudes and knowledge levels are analyzed through a pre and posttest, comparing the group who watched The Daily Show to groups who watched NBC Nightly News, Entertainment Tonight, and a no-exposure control group. Measuring political interest with a 40-point composite index, results from ANOVA and ANCOVA models find a statistically significant difference in change in political interest between the political comedy treatment group and the no-exposure control group. Results testing political comedy’s effects on political knowledge indicate that network news has a more direct effect on learning of current political events, while political interest impacts learning through the mediating variable of political interest. The difference in political knowledge change between the political comedy and network news treatments was indistinguishable from zero. Overall, the results of the study indicate that political comedy has potential to enhance democracy by drawing in otherwise apolitical viewers and heightening their political interest and exposure to politics.

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