I certainly don't fit the profile of the target audience (late teens and early twenty year olds) of the Daily Show, but I do enjoy Jon Stewart & the Daily Show (although I admit it was a 22 year old who turned me on to it). However, I fear for the future of the Daily Show, now that I see that it is the subject of scholarly study. Is nothing sacred?
Two East Carolina University poli-sci professors researched young viewers of the Show. As reported in Art and politics: Study focuses on the effect of "The Daily Show's" satire, those who regularly watch the Show are more cynical than others toward the news media and the electoral process. Luckily, like good researchers, they didn't reach a definitive conclusion:
I wonder if the researchers considered whether the negative political and media views could be the result of the more cynical and corrupt political process that exists today? Perhaps the opinion is based upon informed knowledge, rather than just the influence of Jon Stewart's humor.
"There is something going on with regard to how viewers see candidates and how they see the process as a whole ... whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, we don't know," Morris said. "But 'The Daily Show' is not a benign entity out there just entertaining."
How does cynicism affect "Daily Show" viewers' political behaviors? Morris and Baumgartner aren't sure. Alienation could drive the show's watchers away from polls during election, they said. Discontent could also spawn greater involvement.
Another possibility: As "Daily Show" viewers grow more confident in political knowledge -- a byproduct of "getting" Stewart's humor -- they could become more active voters, Baumgartner said.
"Participation breeds more participation and informed participation" he said. "So that by itself would be a net positive."
Of course, the paper's findings no doubt will be used to target the show. See, for example, Richard Morin's column in the Washington Post: Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?. I'm sure the next thing we'll see is a parade of Republican notables opining that watching the Daily Show is unpatriotic and treasonous.
There is also the opinion expressed at TomPaine's Uncommon Sense, which also discusses the study, as well as others, "The Daily Show" Cause And Effect.
Baumgartner and Morris' study in American Politics Research, is here: The Daily Show Effect: Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth (PDF).