Congressman Castle recently appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, but he may not have received the mythical “Colbert bump” as a result.
If not well documented, the impact of an appearance on Comedy Central’s satirical news show The Colbert Report is at least frequently touted by the show’s namesake. Stephen Colbert has turned the art of self promotion into a fine science. An appearance on the Report (the ‘t’ is silent) purportedly will increase the popularity of the person making the appearance or the product they are discussing.
Test the Bump
Delaware’s lone Congressman Mike Castle may not be a believer in the bump. Castle appeared on the program in a taped segment that aired November 9. (Click here to see the interview.) By coincidence, the very next day the Susquehanna Polling and Research firm started a poll of the U.S. Senate race in which Castle is running. Fate had established a perfect method of putting the “bump” to the test, or as it turns out, put it to rest. According to the poll, Castle trails Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden by five percentage points. That’s a drop of 26 points since the last Susquehanna poll in April. If Colbert had the impact he claims, Castle’s numbers should have gone up, especially against a candidate who may or may not be in the running. (Biden says he’s “very seriously considering” running for the Senate, but he doesn’t have timetable on when he’ll decide.)
Maybe the problem isn’t that the Colbert bump doesn’t exist, maybe it just doesn’t work for Republican candidates. Maybe the Colbert bump is partisan. Colbert plays a conservative commentator on TV, but usually ends up mocking many Republican ideals, which could play more favorably with D’s than R’s.
University of California-San Diego political science professor James Fowler examined this idea in a report published in a journal of the American Political Science Association. His research found that Democrats saw an increase in fund raising following an appearance with Colbert, while Republicans saw a drop in campaign donations. “Republicans, if anything, the evidence sort of suggested that they might be harmed by going on this show,” says Fowler. “There almost appears to be a ‘Colbert bust’ for Republicans who go on the show.” Fowler says it’s more difficult to isolate the impact of the ‘bump’ on an individual candidate. That’s because to get real results, you would have to compare Castle’s result from going on the show to another candidate in a similar situation against a possible high profile candidate who did not go on the show. “So if somebody from the Kennedy clan announced that they are running against someone who went on The Colbert Report, that might be a good comparison. In this case, it’s just hard to know.”
The president of Susquehanna Polling Jim Lee attributes Castle’s poor showing in the poll not so much to the lack of a “bump”, but rather due to his vote against health care reform on the Saturday night before the poll started and before the interview aired. “I think that some of the media attention on that vote certainly was captured in this survey, since we started this poll literally two or three days following that vote.” Lee says, from what he’s read, the coverage of Castle’s ‘no’ vote seemed to be slightly negative. “One of the reasons why Biden is doing better in this poll among Democrats than back in the spring, is because of that no vote,” says Lee. He says while Castle’s vote may have hurt his numbers with Democrats, which have a good majority in registered voters in the state, it may have helped his standing among Republican voters.
(WARNING: Self-promotion ahead) The Colbert Bump may not have helped Castle, but could it be that his possible opponent got a bump of his own? Beau Biden appeared in an interview on WHYY’s Delaware news magazine First (Video here) before the vote and before Castle’s appearance on cable. According to the poll, not only did Castle’s numbers fall by 15%, but Biden’s numbers shot up by 11%.