Annals of Improbable Research

by Henry Farrell on April 5, 2008

“Forthcoming”: from James Fowler in _PS: Political Science and Politics_

Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, claims that politicians who appear on his show will become more popular and are more likely to win elections. Although online discussions cite anecdotal evidence in support of his claim, it has never been scrutinized scientifically. In this article I use “facts” (sorry, Stephen) provided by the Federal Election Commission to create a matched control group of candidates who have never appeared on The Colbert Report. I then compare the personal campaign donations they receive to those received by candidates who have appeared on the program’s segment “Better Know a District.” The results show that Democratic candidates who appear on the Report receive a statistically significant “Colbert bump” in campaign donations, raising 44% more money in a 30-day period after appearing on the show. However, there is no evidence of a similar boost for Republicans. These results constitute the first scientific evidence of Stephen Colbert’s influence on political campaigns.



lemuel pitkin 04.05.08 at 3:53 am

Improbable *results*, isn’t it?


A 04.05.08 at 8:13 am

The “dip” before and the “bump” after the appearance seem largely to offset each other. Perhaps some donors are aware of the impending appearance and withhold their money until they can be sure their candidate hasn’t been made a fool of.


Andrei 04.05.08 at 8:18 am

In “Better know a district” Colbert interviews seated representatives, not “political candidates.” Colbert has claimed the Colbert bump primarily (exclusively?) of candidates. These two (BKAD and the Bump) seem to me to be unrelated features.


DB 04.05.08 at 12:00 pm

Couldn’t it also be that “appearing on Colbert” is on the list of “things to do when doomed?” Appearing on Colbert might coincide with many other appearances.

That said — I watch when candidates appear on Colbert, not when candidates appear on mainstream media blowhard shows… the bump applies for me!


~~~~ 04.05.08 at 1:04 pm

Some people will do anything to go on teevee.


Arthur 04.05.08 at 7:52 pm

Surely the control should be pols or candidates who appeared on shows with equivalent ratings to Me Colbert esteemed vehicle – in a ‘culture’ such as the US where media exposure is the only currency a control cannot be theose who do not appear on tv


Kiran 04.05.08 at 10:46 pm


It’s important to remember that all representatives intending to run for re-election are also “political candidates.” Their political turnaround is 2 years which effectively means they’re running for re-election on their first day of office.


phil 04.05.08 at 10:57 pm

John Hall (NY-19) was interviewed on Better Know a District when he was still a candidate.


Brian 04.06.08 at 12:06 pm

In response to #2 “a”:

Every one who goes on his show knows full well what kind of show it is, and that it’s not a question of ‘if’ they’ll make a fool of themselves. The show is edited to do so, and to portray the most ‘truthiness’ for every viewing second.

I just hope that when an Oregonian is featured, we don’t make a fool of ourselves.



Eric 04.06.08 at 12:42 pm

I like Colbert as much as the next guy (I’ve been listening to his audiobook while travelling, actually), but let’s look at this empirically. There’s little to draw a causality here. If you look, the candidates are rising out of the dip before they appear on the show. This indicates that there’s a total shift in PC tatics which likely INCLUDES the Colbert Report appearance, but is not limited to it, that’s responsible for the bump.


Rob 04.06.08 at 3:15 pm

Sitting representatives featured on Better Know a District (and their opponents in upcoming elections, if the sitting representative refused to be interviewed), no matter what party, were almost all re-elected in the following election (and the challenger who appeared were elect), at least according to Colbert. The episode that aired on the night of the midterm elections in 2006 went into detail about this, so if people want to look into it, I’m sure the video’s on Comedy Central’s website.


Paul 04.06.08 at 4:34 pm

I can has data? Names? Day appeared on show? K thx!


Austin 04.06.08 at 4:59 pm

Well, and then there is Ron Paul.


James Fowler 04.06.08 at 5:36 pm

The data is in a table in the paper:


liza 04.06.08 at 7:42 pm

OMG! This one is sooooo getting an igNoble award. Mark my words!


Chrissy 04.08.08 at 12:03 am

What are the statistics on how many Republican candidates have appeared on the show compared to Democrats?

Comments on this entry are closed.