Can Comedy Decide the Presidential Election?

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President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s divergent plans for the economy, unemployment, foreign policy, and health care are the big issues of the 2012 presidential campaign, but will it be each candidate’s sense of humor that actually decides this election?

The “Millenial” generation, which includes 80 million Americans ages 16-32, represents a significant portion of the voting population. A study by Comedy Central earlier this year found that humor is this generation’s primary method of defining themselves, their beliefs, and their relationships. It can also be a coping mechanism or a way to gather information. (Fifty percent of Millenials said that political satire shows like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update segment are frequent sources of election news.)

Now Comedy Central has partnered with TRU Insights and Insights Research for another new study, which analyzes the role of comedy in Millenials’ political leanings. It turns out that any politicians who want to win these votes need to find their funny bones.

The research shows that visiting a late-night talk show, such as “The Tonight Show” or “The Daily Show,” can be the best way for a politician to connect with young voters. (Related: President Obama will be appearing on "The Tonight Show" tonight, Oct. 24.) By revealing their true personality instead of relying on scripted talking points, they appear more authentic, relatable, and likeable. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed said that an interview with a comedian is the best way to get to know a candidate. Live speeches ranked second with 14 percent, while only 8 percent each cited a formal debate or an interview with a news anchor. And 40 percent of respondents said that if they could only know one thing about a candidate, it would be “their favorite comedian.”

So if all other factors are equal, Millenials are more likely to vote for the funnier guy. According to the study, “Four in 10 Millennials are less likely to vote for a candidate who lacks a sense of humor and/or is unable to poke fun at him/herself.” Sixty-two percent of Millenials like it when politicians use their sense of humor, 54 percent say politicians “need to loosen up,” 55 percent want politicians to show their sense of humor more often, and 54 percent agree that the funnier a politician, the more likeable they are.

But the candidates have to be careful not to go over the top in their quest for laughs, because voters want to know that their elected officials are serious about the job. Watch Comedy Central’s video, “5 Ways to Win The Millennial Vote Through Humor,” which offers a guide to how the candidates can most effectively showcase their sense of humor: