Student: Nicholas Shereikis
Majors: Political Science, Communication Studies
Advisors: Angela Bos, Denise Bostdorff
This study considers the effects of consuming late-night political humor on audience members’ individual-level affective political polarization. Existing literature suggests that many late-night comedy television programs already influence viewers’ political engagement, including voting likelihood and political talk likelihood. Programming like The Daily Show (TDS) employs satiric critique within broader parodic framework to engage audience members’ political identities. These identities are incredibly emotional and, combined with comedic capacity to provoke anger, exert significant influence over individual behavioral tendencies. Subsequently, it makes sense to consider the affectively polarizing capacity of these shows—measured both by favorability, or ingroup confidence, and social distance, or hostility towards members of opposing political parties. This study implements experimental research design to test this theory, finding a mildly significant relationship between consumption of TDS and individual-level affective polarization that is heavily mitigated by a variety of other independent variables.
“Laughing Matters” is my attempt at measuring the effects of watching late-night comedy television programs, like The Daily Show (TDS), on audience members’ affective political polarization. I first conducted an extensive literature review synthesizing work from myriad political communication scholars, before designing an experimental survey with two treatments to measure participants’ affective responses. I then ran several statistical analyses to conclude my study, before considering limitations and implications for both future research and the national political media landscape. I’ve condensed my roughly 60-page study into this poster presentation—I hope I’ve done it justice—but I’d like to use this additional space to reflect a little on the broader “why” of my project and the implications it has for me, personally.
I chose to assess the political consequences of late-night comedy television for several reasons. I foremost needed an independent study topic that would blend my two departments (Political Science and Communication Studies), but I also knew I couldn’t spend over a year working on anything I didn’t truly care about. I finally had a breakthrough moment watching a segment from TDS on my phone, waiting for class to start: Late-night comedy television. It’s increasingly and intensely popular, especially among younger audiences, and is a pretty broad source of political news. More importantly, though, I absolutely love comedy in every possible form—stand-up, SNL, improv. I knew immediately, as soon as I had even the beginnings of the idea, that this is what I wanted to work with.
I’ve learned a lot throughout this process. Designing an experimental survey, collecting my data, running statistical analyses and regressions in SPSS—this project pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to learn quantitative research methodology, something I’d always tried to avoid. It’s given me new confidence that I am capable of more than I sometimes believe, and that’s something I will always take with me as I move through the next chapter of my life. Moreover, I’ve realized that I’m genuinely interested in political polarization. It’s an epiphany that has helped me narrow my future career goals, and given me a sense of purpose.
I’ve truly enjoyed working on this project, even through all the pitfalls and challenges. I am so thankful to have had absolutely incredible advisors, both in academia and life, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.
Nicholas will be online to field comments on May 8:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST 6am-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)