Westminster Professor Examines Colbert Effect on Student Voting

Oct 18, 2012

Study finds the Daily Show and Colbert Report strongly influence student voting behavior   SALT LAKE CITY - Should presidential candidate Mitt Romney reconsider his decision to not appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report in light of a Westminster College professor's study? Possibly, because according to the new study young voters get the majority of their political information from programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. While comedian Stephen Colbert, the mock conservative commentator, brags about "The Colbert Bump," it just may be true that "The Colbert Bump" could actually be a factor in elections. According to the study by Douglas K. Peterson Ph.D., associate professor of management at Westminster, Westminster students and their 18-24 year old peers aren't paying attention to the nightly news. But they are getting their information from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report and then shaping those views on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. "This generation isn't making decisions about voting the same way we did 20 years ago," said Peterson. "They have far more access to information, and thus they are far more cynical and sophisticated about political events. They tend to be sarcastic about the political information they receive and are known to be 'snarky' about that information." Peterson surveyed a group of 150 Westminster undergraduate students about where they get their information and their likelihood to vote in the upcoming election. He found that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were by far the most popular resources for political information and that traditional news outlets like Fox, MSNBC, Current TV and others "did not even register" as influencing factors for the students. According to Dr. Peterson, simple questions prompt the start of research. The question that Dr. Peterson wanted to address was: "Is today's voting population different now than it was in 1992?" Twenty years ago Peterson conducted a similar survey while at the University of Nebraska. In 1992 and in this most recent study Peterson used the theory of planned behavior to examine voting intention and behavior. Twenty years ago political humor was mostly confined to niche print publications. Now voters have easy access to satirical, social and cable news media. The generations differ greatly in communication patterns and they differ on their core values. Back then, email and mobile phone communication were emerging, while today's voters have instant conversations via text, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Peterson's study The Colbert Bump® and the Facebook® Follow-Through for Generation Snark: A Test and Extension of the Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior for 2012 was published on July 12, 2012 in The Journal of Management Research.

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About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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