Factors predicting the perceived effectiveness of politicians' use of humor during a debate

  • 1 California State University, Long Beach.


Prior research on humor in the political context has focused primarily on people's reactions to humor about politicians in the form of cartoons or jokes, or on specific politicians' use of humor as a rhetorical strategy. This study provides an empirical test of audience perceptions of the effectiveness of a politician's use of humor during a political debate. Data were collected during the 2004 election cycle; respondents were told a candidate had made a humorous remark during a recent congressional campaign debate. Party affiliation of the candidate and the target of the humor (himself vs. his opponent) were counterbalanced. The results indicated that self-deprecating humor was rated as more effective, and both Democrats and Republicans saw humor from a Democratic candidate as more effective than from a Republican. Being of the same versus opposite party of the candidate did not affect respondents' attributions of the candidate's motives for using humor or its overall effectiveness. Overall, the biggest predictor of perceived effectiveness was respondents' assessment of the quality (timing and funniness) of the humor.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.