NEW YORK, October 18, 2012 – Here’s a fact that should interest President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney, and anyone else with even a passing interest in the outcome of elections: there are 80 million Americans in the Millennial generation, ages 16-32. To put that number in perspective, there are just as many Millennials as Boomers and twice as many as Gen Xers. And 60% of Millennials say that they are extremely or somewhat likely to vote – that’s almost 50 million votes.

Leading up to the 2012 election, COMEDY CENTRAL partnered with TRU Insights and Insight Research to conduct an extensive research study seeking to define, frame, and understand what role humor plays in Millennials’ political beliefs, behaviors and capturing their vote.

Key findings include:

  • Do not underestimate Millennials: they are very aware of what’s going on in politics. And they are involved and influential.
  • When it comes to political comedies, they don’t watch to get informed; they watch because they are informed.
  • What a candidate thinks is funny tells Millennials who they really are.
  • Politicians must leverage humor to connect with Millennials: this generation needs humor, and they’re saying it will shape their votes.

Engaged and Optimistic, Despite Real Concerns

68% agree the 2012 Election results will have a long-term impact on the direction this country goes in with 62% saying that they are extremely or somewhat likely to vote. Only 15% claim it doesn’t matter who wins.

Today’s economic condition continues to take a massive toll on their age group in particular.

  • Millennial unemployment remains stuck at 12.7% (August 2012)
  • Student debt tops $1 trillion
  • 52% have been personally impacted by economic downturn
  • 26% have had a close friend/family member to lose their home
  • 21% have lost their own job in the past four years
  • only 34% agree that the American Dream is alive and well
And yet, we see resilience from this generation. 6 in 10 agree they’re generally optimistic about their future, regardless of party affiliation. In other words, they are not turning into Gen Xers.

But despite their optimism, two-thirds agree the current political system is broken and have concerns about today’s political landscape, with the majority of Millennials expressing a desire for the two parties to put ego aside and learn to work together and for there to a be the creation of a third, more moderate party.

Being group oriented from birth, Millennials believe that their generation is uniquely positioned to reach across the aisle. They crave a middle ground, are looking for less talk and more action and while on 22% believe they’d make a great President, most believe that when they run the Government they will be able to set partisanship aside and come together to compromise and make the hard decisions that move the country forward.

Millennials, who have inherited a deep-seated activist mentality from their Boomer generation parents, believe the best way to achieve social change is through digital efforts.

  • 53% of Millennials think it’s their responsibility to bring about change in the world
  • 68% of Millennials believe that their generation have the most power to effect change
  • 66% agree it is possible to create the most change by spreading the word online than standing on the street, rallying and protesting
  • 63% would rather protest online than protest in person
Humor Me

Politicians who want to court the vote of this increasingly important generation must use their sense of humor to appear more authentic, more relatable, and more likable. Not only will this drive the Millennial vote towards them, not doing so will drive votes away from them. Candidates who refuse to turn on their sense of humor, do so at their own peril as 4 in 10 Millennials are less likely to vote for a candidate who lacks a sense of humor and/or is unable to poke fun at him/herself.

  • 62% like it when politicians use their sense of humor
  • 54% say politicians need to loosen up
  • 55% want politicians to show their sense of humor more often
  • 54% agree the funnier a politician, the more likeable he/she is
But candidates must leverage the power of humor carefully. Non-stop, over the top humor, can back-fire and make it hard to know when someone is being serious and isn’t befitting of the political office. Millennials want candidates who recognize the boundaries of where their humor can and cannot go.

Show Them the Funny

A candidate’s sense of humor and tastes in comedy is important in fostering a connection with Millennials. When candidates visit late night talk/political satire shows it’s as though they are throwing away the tele-prompters and talking points and showing their real personality. In doing so, they provide an opportunity to be seen as real, relatable and more authentic. In turn, this can increase Millennials interest in learning more about the candidate and listening closer to their message. Exhibiting a sense of humor increases their likability. Between two politicians who had similar views and experience, Millennials would likely vote for the funnier, more relatable candidate.

If I could only know one thing about a candidate, it would be:

  • 40% their favorite comedian
  • 33% their favorite band
  • 27% their favorite sports team
And there is no better venue for Millennials to get to see this trait than through interviews with a comedian, which they feel present a more honest view of candidates and is far and away the best way to really get to know them.

If I really want to see a candidate being himself/herself, I would look at:

  • 33% interview with a comedian
  • 14% live speech
  • 8% formal debate
  • 8% interview with a news anchor
  • 7% Facebook pages/updates
  • 7% official web sites

Millennials’ Political Decoder Ring

As learned from a prior COMEDY CENTRAL research study (“In the Tastes of Young Men, Humor Is Most Prized, a Survey Finds,” The New York Times, 2/12/12) comedy is in the Millennial generation’s DNA. They use comedy to define themselves, to make friends, to meet the ladies, and to help make sense of the world. Humor is their primary coping mechanism and allows Millennials to remain resilient and optimistic in the face of these difficult times, and it certainly helps them to decode the tangled web of politics. It’s difficult to overstate the role of humor in the lives of Millennials and how it unites them across party lines. By nearly 2 to 1, humor bonds friends in a way politics doesn’t. Democrats and Republicans can be friends…as long as they can laugh about it.

All/Most of My Friends…

  • 86% Laugh at the same things
  • 82% Share a similar sense of humor
  • 45% Share same political beliefs
Humor provides Millennials with perspective and serves as a decoder ring, of sorts. Most say that they get facts and insights from a variety of mainstream news sources; however Millennials are going to political comedies/satires to gain perspective on the issues. While conventional media continues to play an important role in keeping Millennials informed, fully half say they frequently use political satire shows to follow politics and the election. When it comes to political comedy/satires, Millennials don’t watch to get informed; they watch because they are informed.

Frequent Sources of Election News:

  • 68% Network News
  • 58% Online Aggregator (Yahoo!, Google)
  • 56% Cable News
  • 52% Facebook or Twitter
  • 50% Political Satire Shows (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Weekend Update)
  • 50% News Website
  • 44% Newspaper
  • 37% Late Night Talk (The Tonight Show, Late Night)

Research Methodology

Leading up to the 2012 election, Comedy Central sought to define, frame, and understand what role humor really plays in Millennials’ political beliefs and behavior. Comedy Central partnered with TRU Insights and Insight Research to conduct an extensive research study.

Research methods include:

  • Conducting a 1 day nation-wide app exercise with Millennials exploring what types of political humor are resonating with them
  • Meeting with 10 groups of friends (35 in total) across 3 markets to understand their views on humor, politics, and the upcoming election
  • Travelling to the Tampa and Charlotte during the conventions to interview Millennials on the street in order to hear their take on the election, their favorite political joke, and how they’d fix the political system
  • Fielding an online 25 minute survey of 1,020 Millennials to assess key political and social issues, voting attitudes and behaviors, media consumption, humor attitudes and preferences
Additional context and insights were provided by The Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report.

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Steve Albani

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