Study: TV Comics Hit Democrats Hardest

August 1, 2013

Press Release
August 1, 2013
Contact: Katy Davis

Obama, Weiner Are Most Frequent Targets

Only Letterman Jokes More About GOP

Latenight TV talk show comedians have told far more jokes about Democrats than about Republicans this year, according to a new study of political humor by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). This reversed CMPA’s earlier finding that Republicans were joked about more often than Democrats during the 2012 presidential election. In both studies, however, David Letterman was the toughest on Republicans. According to CMPA President and George Mason University Professor Robert Lichter, “Where scandals go, latenight comedians follow. These days that means they’re following the Democrats.”

From January 1 to June 30, CMPA analyzed the targets of all jokes about public figures in the opening monologues of five hosts of night talk shows on the broadcast networks – Jay Leno, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel. CMPA has been tracking the targets of late night TV comedians since 1988.

Major findings:

Democrats were the target of 713 jokes in the first half of 2013, or 70% more than the 417 jokes about Republicans.

Barack Obama was the butt of 288 jokes, over twice as many as anyone else. But Democrats would still lead the humor race even if jokes about Obama were excluded.

New York Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner finished second with 120 jokes, even though the study period predated recent reports that he continued “sexting” long after his previous admissions. His totals would be much higher today.

The only Republicans on the top ten list were former president George W. Bush (84 jokes) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (71 jokes).

David Letterman was the only comedian who made more jokes about Republicans (139) than Democrats (102). In CMPA’s previous study during the 2012 election, Letterman had the most one-sided totals in joking about Romney more than Obama. Jimmy Fallon was the toughest on Democrats, with over three times as many jokes about Democrats (240) as Republicans (76).

Both outgoing Pope Benedict XVI (112 jokes) and incoming Pope Francis I (61) also made the top ten lists of most joked about public figures.

For all five comedians combined, joke totals for the top ten targets of late night political humor so far in 2013 were:

  1. Barack Obama (D) – 288
  2. Anthony Weiner (D) — 120
  3. Pope Benedict XVI — 112
  4. Joe Biden (D) — 88
  5. George W. Bush (R) — 84
  6. Chris Christie (R) – 71
  7. Pope Francis I – 61
  8. Kim Jong-Un — 57
  9. Dennis Rodman – 48*
  10. Edward Snowden — 45

* Rodman is included as a public figure because of his “basketball diplomacy” with North Korea during this period.

Total Democratic v. Republican jokes by comedian:

  • Leno 235 (D) v. 121 (R);
  • Letterman 102 (D) v. 139 (R);
  • Fallon 240 (D) v. 76 (R);
  • Kimmel 81 (D) v. 63 (R);
  • Ferguson 55 (D) v. 18 (R)

Sample Jokes:

I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke, but I don’t want to get audited by the IRS, so forget that. — Leno

A lot of critics are now comparing President Obama to President Nixon. The good news for Obama? At least he’s no longer being compared to President Carter. – Leno

Joe Biden said that some people buy guns because owning one feels like driving a Ferrari.  At which point, Obama was like, “Stop helping.” — Fallon

Polls indicate that the American public actually misses George W. Bush…Let’s see, two wars, an economic collapse and mortgage crisis Ah it’s hard not to be nostalgic. Those were the days! – Letterman

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored news coverage of every presidential election and every new administration since 1988. For CMPA findings on the Obama administration see:

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