Yesterday, the Center for Media and Public Affairs released its findings regarding political candidates and late-night talk show hosts. Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney was the butt of the vast majority of the jokes: nearly three times more than Obama—148 to 62.
Most readers will find that this data confirms what they already believed about late-night media, but what is of particular interest is just how much presidential election humor has dwindled when compared with the 2008 election. Four years ago, John McCain was the subject of 658 jokes, while running mate Sarah Palin claimed 566. Then candidate, Barack Obama, was joked about 243 times, finishing with only one fewer than sitting President George W. Bush. Apparently there was much more to laugh about during the 2008 election.
The study found that of the four late-night network hosts (Jay Leno, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Fallon), David Letterman was the most political and the most disparate between the two candidates: “Letterman told 44 jokes about Romney and 9 about Obama, a five to one margin.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain where Letterman’s allegiance is rooted. Overall, Republicans—not just Romney—were the subject of late-night jokes more than twice as often as Democrats: 290 to 138. Aside from the presidential candidates, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton were the second highest joke subjects, 39 to 28 respectively.
The disparity between Republicans and Democrats aside, it is important to note just how little politics seemed to play in the late-night conversation. With more than 1200 jokes combined in 2008 about McCain/Palin, the combined jokes of 168 about Romney/Ryan is a much more significant statistic than the combined 78 about Obama/Biden. Either politics is no longer a laughing matter (surely this can’t be the case), or the candidates are giving the late-night comics much less to work with than the ones four years ago. The simple fact that the number of jokes is barely a tenth of what it was in 2008 is encouraging news.
This must mean—at least to some degree—that the Romney/Ryan campaign is much less characterized by gaffes and material for comedy than was the McCain/Palin campaign; it certainly doesn’t mean that the writers for these late-night shows are suddenly merciful or not paying attention. You can bet that if there was an abundance of comical material coming from Romney/Ryan that it would be finding high-profile recognition on these network shows. Regardless what you think of Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, this lack of material is commendable and speaks volumes about how they are conducting themselves on the campaign trail in their bid for the White House.