Fowler insists that his research, however lighthearted, may actually have broader implications. Political scientists have been examining how the media influence elections for decades—finding, generally speaking, that the more coverage a candidate can get, the better. But little work has been done on how specific media outlets, especially new media like blogs or fake news shows, have begun to affect election outcomes. "There's been this growing realization that we are getting our news from entertainment sources instead of traditional news sources," says Fowler. And while his research demonstrates that programs like the Colbert Report or the Daily Show, with their million-plus viewers, are being watched by politically savvy voters with deep pockets, the political establishment is still wary of them. "I think there's a disconnect between [Nancy] Pelosi's perception of the audience and the actual audience," says Fowler. "As it turns out, those million people have a big impact on whether candidates are receiving campaign donations. This is a well-to-do group, and it seems to be saying, 'If you're willing to put yourself in a situation where you're made fun of, I'm not going to hold that against you.' "
Unless, it seems, you're a Republican. Memo to John McCain: Just to be safe, it might be a good idea to steer clear of Comedy Central for a few months.