U.S. Comedians Eagerly Await Presidential Debates

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Up to 50 million viewers are expected to tune in October 3 to the first of three debates between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

While there are plenty of news stories describing the debates as a last chance for the candidates to win support, Gwen Ifill, who moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates, says most voters have already made up their minds. She said decades of polling data “show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates,” and the debates serve as much to confirm positive or negative impressions as to alter them.

Instead, Ifill says, the “last, best chance” for Obama and Romney to be defined for American voters could actually be in the hands of late-night comedy shows like NBC’s Saturday Night Live, which will be monitoring the debates for material to lampoon “a candidate’s most cartoonish qualities.”

University of Missouri political science professor William Horner argues that Saturday Night Live has indeed influenced U.S. elections. Actor Chevy Chase portrayed a bumbling President Gerald Ford in 1976, and Horner said he is convinced that Chase’s impersonation played a role in Ford’s defeat.

Also, he said actress Tina Fey’s 2008 portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will likely have a long-lasting impact on the way people view the former Alaska governor.

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