Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert didn't help elect Donald Trump after all, science says

Fans of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart can relax: New statistical analysis has disproved the charge that they helped elect Donald Trump by leaving their shows when they did.

Two university professors retracted a paper over the weekend that purported to show that Stewart’s exit from “The Daily Show” in combination with Colbert’s transition from “The Colbert Report” played a role in depressing Democratic turnout in 2016 and helping elect Trump president.

Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at Comedy Central's "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education" in 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

“By combining granular geographic ratings data with election results, we are able to isolate the shows’ effects on the election. For The Daily Show, we find a strong positive effect on Jon Stewart’s departure and Trump’s vote share,” Ethan Porter, assistant professor of media and public affairs at Georgetown University, and Thomas Wood, assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, wrote in their initial paper, published in April in the journal Electoral Studies. “By our estimate, the transition at The Daily Show spurred a 1.1% increase in Trump’s county-level vote share. Further analysis suggests that the effect may be owed more to Stewart’s effects on mobilization, not his effects on attitudes. We also find weaker evidence indicating that the end of The Colbert Report was associated with a decline in 2016 voter turnout. Our results make clear that late-night political comedy can have meaningful effects on presidential elections.”

Stewart left “The Daily Show” in August 2015. “The Colbert Report” ran until December 2014.

But readers began examining the paper’s methodology and contacted the authors to point out flaws, Retraction Watch reported. To their credit, Wood and Porter quickly issued a correction and retraction of the paper.

While Colbert has gone on to a job as the host of CBS’s “The Late Show,” Stewart has, for the most part, left political satire behind. During a Nov. 27 appearance on Colbert’s new show, however, Stewart took a turn in the host’s seat and explained his reason for leaving his old show just at the moment that Trump was poised to become president.

“You and I both famously know we were turd miners. We toiled in the turd mines. We both lost many people close to us to ‘turd lung.’ It’s been a terrible thing,” Stewart mused. “So working at ‘The Daily Show,’ I felt as though I was toiling in the turd mines. And then I finally quit, and a giant turd asteroid heads toward the planet. Now, in that instance, if someone said, ‘You were a turd miner. This is the largest turd deposit ever seen. Don’t you wish you were in there?’ And you’re like, ‘I’m out of the business. I’m out.’”


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