So, the question arises – what kind of impact did the funny folk have on this election cycle – one in which the numbers of young people voting dropped from 22 million in 2008 to 9 million? The institutions that this generation relies on for information have shifted significantly says Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, who tracks these numbers. Since comedy is a tool for amplifying the weaknesses or strengths of a political candidate, “it is having an impact,” he says.
Look no further than the senatorial campaign of Delaware hopeful Christine O’Donnell to see comedy's reach, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Her own colorful history of flirtations with witchcraft gave her opponents plenty of material for their ads. But, he says, the comedians took it from there, with skits on "Saturday Night Live" and clips on everything from "Real Time with Bill Maher" to "The Daily Show." “People running for positions of power sign up for this kind of treatment,” he says. “Comedy carries along the hypocrisies, inconsistencies, blunders, and assumed deficiencies.”