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Tilting at Windmills

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April 5, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE COLBERT BUMP....Is it really true that congressional candidates who appear on Stephen Colbert's show do better than candidates who don't? Or is it merely truthy? Henry Farrell summarizes the surprising researchy answer from actual political scientist James Fowler:

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.

Indeed. Fowler explains his methodology here:

To evaluate absolute differences between Colbert candidates and others I use a Wilcoxon signed rank test. This test is non-parametric, which is a super-cool term that means I don't assume that a histogram of the data produces a nice, "normal" bell shape. In fact, I know the data doesn't look that way — it looks more like a skateboard ramp, starting high near zero and curving down sharply to become flat. For percentage differences, I use a related non-parametric (so cool) test called the Mann Whitney U. I'm sure Stephen will be pleased that there is a "man" in his statistical test (though what kind of a man calls himself 'Whitney'?).

And of course there are graphs. What kind of scientificy research would it be if it didn't have graphs?

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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What's the sample size? Wilcoxon tests aren't valid unless he has largeish (~40-50) numbers in each category.

Posted by: Ruck on April 5, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. What's really amazing about the Colbert bump for Democratic candidates is that it reached back and exerted itself 15 days prior to the event. So it can transcend time itself.

Posted by: jeri on April 5, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK



Posted by: idiotic on April 5, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Makes you wonder if Colbert is really a conservative, doesn't it.

Posted by: AJ on April 5, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, he isn't conservative. It's an act.

Posted by: Ruck on April 5, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

very funny, Ruck. I'd like to see how you arrived at that conclusion. He's a Sunday School teacher. Haven't you read anything from Amy Sullivan?!

Posted by: absent observer on April 5, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not convinced.

Candidates don't go on Colbert unless they are in a campaign, or need favorable publicity. Those candidates that go on Colbert are vastly more likely to be campaigning, advertising, and trying to make news.

The correlation doesn't look tight enough, to my eyes, to attribute the "bump" to Mr. Colbert.

Posted by: Osama Von McIntyre on April 5, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

The Colbert bump begins to manifest itself even before the Democratic candidates appear on his show? Amazing! Could it just possibly be that it begins when their forthcoming appearances begin to be bruited in promotional spots?

My guess, of course, will be wrong if they routinely appear as surprise guests.

Posted by: Zeno on April 5, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Jeri, I wouldn't put it past Mr Colbert. (That guy is Amazing!)

His real passion is for Republicans, though, whom he "bumps" (to use the slang de jour, wonka wonka) 30 DAYS! prior to an appearance!

Posted by: absent observer on April 5, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Right, promotions begin 15 days in advance so that viewers can clear their schedules. So at any one time there are 15 promotions running simultaneously.

But it's a moot point. Closer inspection shows that the conservative Colbert actually helps Republican candidates and hurts Democratic candidates 30 days retroactively. Note the "pre-Colbert bump" for Republican candidates and the "Democrats in trouble" both peaking about 30 days before appearance.

Posted by: jeri on April 5, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

absent observer -- you beat me to it.

Posted by: jeri on April 5, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Colbert makes of this on his Report. Maybe now Nancy Pelosi will appear on it.

Posted by: Leonidas on April 5, 2008 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Am I to take that graph on the right to mean that Republicans' fund-raising does worse after the Republicans appear on his show?

If so-- awesome!! He gets so many Republicans, it seemed like it was a conscious effort on their part- obnoxiously gambling that if people connected their faces with their terrible lies more, people would oppose them less. Great to see it didn't work out.

Posted by: Swan on April 5, 2008 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, this goes back a few days, but I would not rely on you and your readers to find it on its own site. From Anglachel's Journal, Legitimacy = 2214, posted 5 April 2008:

"Kevin Drum misframes the question facing the Democrats:
'But is there really a sizable pool of Democrats in either state who are both (a) so committed to the party that they care about stuff like this and (b) so uncommitted to the party that they’re willing to either stay home or vote for John McCain in November? Or is the argument that activists will be so pissed off that they’ll refuse to man phone banks and knock on doors, thus scuttling Clinton/Obama’s ground game? I’m not sure I get the logic here.'

The problem with the way this question is put is that it imposes a false equivalency on the reasons why the different groups of partisans accept or reject the opposing candidate. It assumes that the partisans will stay home or else vote maliciously if their personal favorite does not win.

What Drum overlooks is that a Democrat may care passionately about the legitimacy of the nominee selection process and, as a result of that commitment to democratic principles, may reject the person selected as nominee as having won that in an illegitimate manner.

This also looks away from the nature of the arguments that the different groups of partisans are making. Obamacans will not acknowledge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton as a candidate. They describe her in obscene and derogatory terms, defame her as a human being, summon culturally loaded imagery to portray her, blatantly and crudely encourage misogynistic attacks on her, and dismiss her supporters as poor, uneducated, bigoted Archie Bunkers. They refuse to vote for the bitch, and have been stamping their little feet about this for years. They would say this regardless of who Hillary's opponent is. Their only formal reed to cling to is Dr. Dean and Donna Brazile said not to count Florida and Michigan, so nyah!

Hillary supporters point to the selection process itself. We point to the caucus system as suppressing participation and resulting in disproportion of voters to delegates in places like Wyoming vs. California. We argue that it makes no sense to refuse to count the votes of Michigan and Florida, two must-win states in the general. We say it would be best to revote those places so as to remove doubt as to the will of the voters. Our arguments would apply without modification if the situation were reversed. It doesn't matter how much we like our candidate or dislike her opponent, winning the votes is winning the votes. Our formal foundation is the principle of enfranchisement."

FWIW, she nails the critical issue that you and most of the Obama people can't seem to get. If you're interested, there's more at http://anglachelg.blogspot.com/. It's a long post, too long to quote here, but worth the time. I have been HUNGRY to read about legitimacy in "winning" and an understanding that, as FDR said, Rules can change, but principles remain.

Posted by: Brownell on April 5, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

no blinding truths. just met a marshall islander, and learned more than i really ever wanted to know abt'em. apparentely we still hav missilles there.
and there must be more women than men.

Posted by: sameoldjeff on April 5, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Brownell,

My wife liked and respected Ms. Clinton for many years. She actively defended her against her often loathsome opponents. Now, she deeply regrets having done so, and is disappointed to the point of disgust. I think that this cannot be explained by misogyny, stubborn bias, or a bad attitude toward Ms. Clinton's supporters (or, at least, toward her past supporters). I respectfully suggest that, although some Obama supporters may be over the top, there are real reasons for the shift in views against one candidate and in favor of the other.

As you know, there are ample plausible (even persuasive?) reasons to reject your reasoning about what is and isn't fair and democratic. There's no need to have such a poor opinion of those who have come to dislike your candidate, or who support the legitimacy of the process established by the party.

Posted by: Wifewatcher on April 5, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Brownell, You should get your own blog.

The topic you brought up isn't even tangential to the topic at hand.

Posted by: absent observer on April 5, 2008 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

B.S...the trend clearly started days before the candidates appeared on the show.

Also, "absolute differences" cannot be negative.

Posted by: Ben on April 5, 2008 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Although I couldnt ever agree with his Politics, I always enjoyed watching Mike Huckabee participate on the show.

Posted by: FarLeftLiberal on April 5, 2008 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well there is a correlation of throttle movement and the spool up of a jet engine, its a delayed response [time trancendation? =)

However I dont think this graph, nor the ideology behind it is concrete [cool]

Posted by: Jet on April 5, 2008 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

colbert a conservative? idiots.. he's on comedy central for pete's sake..not foxnews..of course it's an act.. and he's buddies with jon stewart.. need i say more?

Posted by: rolan on April 5, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

I know it is science because it has big red dots and squiggly lines.

Posted by: Matt on April 5, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK
colbert a conservative? idiots.. he's on comedy central for pete's sake..not foxnews..of course it's an act.. and he's buddies with jon stewart..


Posted by: Tyro on April 5, 2008 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Colbert has challenged both Clinton and Obama supporters to raise money for this nation's schools.

The challenge a couple of months ago raised considerable dollars for school projects and basic supplies.

the challenge running now is specifically for pennsylvania schools and is again skillfully using the political campaign to do a lot of tangible good.

I would urge everyone here to go to donorschoose.org/click on the red go icon/click on the candidate of your choice and make a donation in his or her name.

And if you are not political, just go to the website and click on choose a project at the top of the page and donate in your own name!

Posted by: laurie on April 5, 2008 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

3/20: US launches first attack on Iran
bet you didnt hear about it though..
very similar to the embargo placed on Japanese oil supplies pre-pearl harbor to draw the US into war.
Support impeachment now and stop WW3.... please?

Posted by: LOLWAR on April 5, 2008 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who thinks Colbert is a conservative should look up the words "spoof," "parody," or "lampoon" ... take your pick. Or simply read the guy's book.

The reason Republicans don't get a donation bump is because not many conservatives watch the show (or at least the conservatives who are smart enough to know they're being mocked).

Posted by: Everyman on April 6, 2008 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who believes Colbert is a conservative needs to watch the brilliant white house correspondents dinner speech. Still timely (and hysterical) a couple years later.

Posted by: KR on April 6, 2008 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Look, if you want this to actually show a bump in donations, you need to look more closely at the next day through the next week after the show airs. Compare this to the Amazon book bump - the fallout isn't nearly that widespread to be lasting 30 days since appearing on the show. I'm even willing to concede that he gives candidates a boost, but it's just visibility, what's the boost after a minor congressman is on the sunday shows running for office?

Posted by: Analrapist on April 6, 2008 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who believes that someone making a post here questioning whether Colbert is really a conservative, actually believes Colbert is a conservative, should examine their own sense of parody.

Posted by: AJ on April 6, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Colbert doesn't teach "Sunday School". CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) is what Catholics call it--you know, the Antichrist, Whore of Babylon? He belongs to a church whose popes call the Iraq war immoral.

Anyway, it's possible that liberals see someone on Colbert and think that the guy's got a sense of humor to let himself be set up--and conservatives are unaware that Colbert is doing parody.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on April 6, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

A few crowd guesses from someone who once wanted to be an actual political scientist. (US, citizen.) ((tenured)).

98% suppoert legal homosexuality glybe
96% support concealed carryhome +(((police)))+
62% suport Englisht nuclear Weapons
2% support forcible abirto China
1% support deportation of Islam
98% support bombing Vieques politycs
21% support orphanages
54% support remaining in Afghunostan
6% support prostitution legality epaid
83% support a fourth party in Tibet than China, India, Pakistan

Posted by: Abre Madre on April 6, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Am I to take that graph on the right to mean that Republicans' fund-raising does worse after the Republicans appear on his show?

Look at the trend before the appearance in each case: Democrats go on his show when they are on the upswing anyway, Republicans go as a desperation attention move when they've realized they are tanking and have little left to lose.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2008 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Very good site. Thank you!!!

Posted by: Tramadol on April 14, 2008 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Very good site. Thank you!!!

Posted by: Tramadol on April 14, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK



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