Politics Served Fresh Daily

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It's election season and politics are in the air. With the first Presidential debate last Thursday and a month to go to the election, it's rare to change the channel without hearing some commentary on the election that has so polarized America. Late-night television is no exception. The two major players, Letterman and Leno, hardly go an evening without reporting on some political news and telling a joke to go along with it. Lately, however, Comedy Central's

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

has been a third player in the late night comedy wars, and it turns out that Stewart's viewers are better informed politically than those who prefer either Letterman or Leno. Even though

The Daily Show

posits itself as a 'fake news show,' it's 18- to 29-year-old viewers scored higher than either Leno's or Letterman's on a six question, political test. Young people who prefer

The Daily Show

averaged 48 percent correct, while those who prefer Leno and Letterman averaged only 41 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

These figures come from a recent study by the National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES) aimed at understanding late-night television as a political news source. "I wanted to dispel the myth that old-fashioned traditional journalism is the only delivery mechanism for political information these days," explains Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, a senior research analyst at NAES who headed up the study. "That being said, the association we found between political knowledge and watching

The Daily Show

we can't necessarily attribute it to 'they watch the show, therefore they're smart.' There's a very strong case to be made that they're very politically knowledgeable coming into the show. You'd have to be to understand the parody and satire."

The Daily Show

viewers did more than just score higher than other viewers of late-night television. According to the NAES survey, only people who consume four or more days of cable news scored as highly as late-night viewers who prefer Stewart's Daily Show. In fact, those 18- to 29-year-olds who claimed to read newspapers four or more days a week scored two percentage points lower, with 46 percent correct. The six knowledge questions ranged from "Who favors allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?" to "Who was a former prosecutor?" Daily Show viewers are clearly a well-informed bunch, not the 'stoned slackers' Bill O'Reilly recently called them during an interview with Jon Stewart on his Fox News Channel show

The O'Reilly Factor


"Kids today aren't apathetic to the political process, but between the Internet and traditional media's efforts to compete with it, we have unprecedented access to the most minute details of what goes on," explains 22-year-old David Kienzler, an avid

Daily Show

viewer. "When you look at the numbers of people who are watching

The Daily Show

who are also getting information about the campaign online, those numbers are double or more of the normal population," agrees Goldthwaite Young. "When I think about who these people are, I think about people who are young and grew up in a hyper-mediated environment and who are so familiar with the norms of traditional journalism that they want something that can perhaps deconstruct that."

The Daily Show

does just that, breaking politics down into manageable chunks without the regular spin you see on so many traditional networks.

"Today we can see the men behind the curtains and the staging and machinations of politics and reporting on politics. The beauty of

The Daily Show

is that it's as self aware as the kids. It shares our common perspective and allows us to be invested in what's happening but still emit a collective forehead slap at the inherent ridiculousness of politics," explains Kienzler. With so much information out there and so many sources to find it, young people who choose

The Daily Show

are making the decision to approach politics in a way as fresh as Stewart's style of political reporting.

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