Stephen Colbert’s Civic Lesson: How Colbert Super PAC Taught Viewers About Campaign Finance

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Abstract:

This study tests whether exposure to The Colbert Report influenced knowledge of super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups, and ascertains how having such knowledge influenced viewers’ perceptions about the role of money in politics. Our analysis of a national random sample of adults interviewed after the 2012 presidential election found that viewing The Colbert Report both increased peoples’ perception of how knowledgeable they were about super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups and increased actual knowledge of campaign finance regulation regarding these independent expenditure groups. Findings suggest that the political satirist was more successful in informing his viewers about super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups than were other types of news media. Viewing The Colbert Report also indirectly influenced how useful his audience perceived money to be in politics.

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