Young adults who watched Tina Fey's impersonation of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" were less likely to approve of Palin than young adults who did not watch "Saturday Night Live," according to a new study.
"The Fey Effect: Young Adults, Political Humor, and Perceptions of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential Election Campaign," published in the Spring 2012 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, was authored by East Carolina University political science professors Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris, and Natasha Walth, one of Morris' students. The authors also found that the "Fey Effect" was more pronounced among self-identified Republicans and independents than Democrats.
Baumgartner, Morris and Walth used a panel study in which the same 1,755 respondents answered questions six times throughout the campaign season. They were able, therefore, to measure attitudes about Palin before and after they viewed Fey's impersonation and compare the results to those who did not watch "Saturday Night Live."
Palin was not well known nationally when Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose the Alaskan governor as his running mate in August 2008. She quickly rose to stardom, though, and is today one of the most well-known and controversial political figures in the country. An HBO movie, "Game Change," premiered Saturday about McCain's selection of Palin.
Comedian Tina Fey, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of Palin, was no longer on the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2008, but the producers brought her back to depict Palin because of her similar appearance. Fey appeared as Palin six different times during the campaign season, portraying her as an uninformed political novice. Palin herself even appeared in one of those skits.
Baumgartner said, in a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post, that he and Morris have done several studies of political humor and the findings are consistent: "If you view humor that targets a person or institution, your opinions or perceptions of that target are going to be lowered."
Political humor has been around as long as politics, according to Baumgartner, who teaches a class on political humor. He noted that caricatures of King Tut and his father-in-law were found in Egypt. Baumgartner believes, though, that political humor is more important now than in the past because there is more of it and it is more accessible than ever before.
"Political humor has become democratized," Baumgartner said.
Regarding whether or not political humor helps voters learn more about candidates, Baumgartner said the evidence is inconclusive. The few studies that have researched the question have provided mixed results.