As Tina Fey soars, Sarah Palin struggles

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Sarah Palin has been very good for the career of Tina Fey.

But the “Saturday Night Live” guest star isn’t returning the favor for the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Two new polls find that Mrs. Palin and running mate Sen. John McCain have lost ground in recent days among independent voters — precisely the demographic that the “outsider/maverick/hockey mom” was supposed to attract. And the numbers suggest that Mrs. Fey’s uncanny impersonation of the Alaska governor is playing a role.

Thirty-three percent of independents said “Tina Fey effect” is hurting the McCain-Palin ticket, compared to 9 percent who said it was helpful, a Fox 5-The Washington Times-Rasmussen Reports survey says. The figures were nearly identical among independents in the survey.

The Emmy Award-winning Mrs. Fey and the NBC show, however, are on a roll.

Ratings for the 33-year-old show are up 49 percent compared to a year ago, and NBC plans to run three prime-time editions of the show’s “Weekend Update” news spoof. Mrs. Fey, who also recently won an Emmy for her work on the sitcom “30 Rock,” has just signed a multimillion-dollar contract for a humor book to be published by Little, Brown Book Group.

The McCain campaign has struggled to find the right tone in neutralizing the impact of the Tina Fey parodies, which at times have quoted the Alaska governor verbatim to comedic effect.

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Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, an adviser to the McCain campaign, said in an interview last month on MSNBC that the “Saturday Night Live” skits were “dismissive” toward Mrs. Palin while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, played by actress Amy Poehler, was shown as a substantive — if humorless — public figure.

“I think that continues the line of argument that is disrespectful in the extreme, and yes, I would say sexist,” Mrs. Fiorina complained.

But Mrs. Palin herself has taken to joking about the caricature, which has proven a massive hit on YouTube and other Internet video sites.

At a campaign rally in Florida Monday, she explained her widely panned performance in an interview with CBS’s Katie Couric this way: “I was just trying to keep Tina Fey in business, just giving her some information.”

The Rasmussen poll on Oct. 1-2 found that 43 percent of independents say Mrs. Palin is “hurting” Mr. McCain’s chances to win, compared to 35 percent who see her as “helping” and another 22 percent who saw no impact or were not sure. Overall, the poll respondents split evenly — 40 percent to 41 percent — on whether Mrs. Palin was proving an asset to the ticket.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken over the weekend also found a sharp shift in sentiment among independents toward Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama. Independents in the poll favored Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by 42 percent to 38 percent, erasing a 13 percentage point lead the Republican enjoyed in the same survey just two weeks earlier.

Political scientists have even come up with a name for the modern collision of high politics and popular entertainment. The “Daily Show effect,” named for the Comedy Central mock cable news program, is said to leave voters more cynical about candidates and campaigns compared to voters who rely on more traditional, less snarky news outlets.

In a 2006 article for the journal “American Political Research,” East Carolina University political scientists Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris found that regular “Daily Show” viewers “exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large.”

While increasing popular awareness of political issues, “our findings indicate that ‘The Daily Show’ may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation,” they wrote.

“It used to be that prospective politicians chose law school as the first step in their career path,” wrote John Feffer in analysis of the rising role of comedians in modern media politics. “Future politicians may skip law school altogether and try out for the ‘Saturday Night Live’ team instead.”

About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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