Laughter and Attention in the 2008 Presidential Primaries: The Impact of Debate Performance on Print Media Coverage

Posted: 27 Aug 2009

Date Written: August 26, 2009

Abstract

Abstract: Humor has long been an important tool for Presidential candidates on the campaign trail with such Presidents as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton being lauded for their humor. In the absence of simple decision cues such as incumbency, political party and well-delineated policy positions, candidate character plays an important role in low-information elections by providing simple decision cues. As such, humor provides an indicator of candidate character. Candidates can endear themselves to potential supporters through self-deprecatory humor that reduces the chasm between candidate and voter while establishing the candidates’ personal qualities. At the same time, humor can be disparaging, attacking opponents both within and outside the candidate’s political party. In either case, the candidate who uses humor effectively signals the possession of a nimble mind while eliciting audience support through laughter. This in turn can be expected to influence the level of support candidates receive in terms of media coverage. Specifically, we expect that candidates who make memorable humorous comments during political debates will be more likely to obtain precious increased media coverage.

Keywords: Humor, laughter, 2008 presidential primaries, print press

Suggested Citation

Stewart, Patrick A., Laughter and Attention in the 2008 Presidential Primaries: The Impact of Debate Performance on Print Media Coverage (August 26, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1462351

Patrick A. Stewart (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

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