Is Colbert really the people's choice?

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A recent Rasmussen Report national telephone survey found that comedian Stephen Colbert is preferred by 13% of voters over Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The survey was conducted last week, not long after Colbert's announcement on his late-night Comedy Central show that he would be running for president of the United States, but only in his home state of South Carolina.

That a comedian who has built his persona around being a vapid, self-centered, conservative nonsense talker is currently polling so high took us by surprise -- especially in the midst of a war with no end in sight, staggering national debt and unprecedented low approval ratings for our current president.

Has America lost its collective mind? Have we so given up on politics that 13% of us would rather a comedian become president than someone who has actually spent some time governing a state or passing laws in Congress?

"I'd say the answer is no to all of your questions," wrote Alan Abramowitz, who teaches political science at Emory University in Atlanta, in an e-mail in which he questioned the poll's findings. "It would surprise me that he would be polling 13% in S.C. in either party (he claims he's running in both) but even if that's true, at the end of the day I would not expect him to get more than 1% to 2% since a vote for Colbert is clearly a wasted vote and people generally don't take the trouble to vote in a primary to waste their vote on a candidate who is running as a joke."

Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles based Democratic strategist, warns against taking these early polling numbers too seriously.

The Rasmussen polls are automated so that a person would press 1 for Clinton, 2 for Giuliani and 3 for Colbert. It's one thing to tell a computer that you would rather vote for a comedian than the former mayor of New York -- it's harder to tell that to a person.

"That [kind of polling] is a perfect way for someone to lodge a small protest against conventional politics, and so it's not surprising it would register a higher than normal number for Colbert," said Carrick. "It's just punching a number and saying you'll vote for somebody."

Joe Werner, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, says he's not too worried about Colbert's run.

"Am I concerned the way he is polling? No. It's not all that surprising," he said. "Are we taking his candidacy seriously? Well, as seriously as we would anyone of Stephen's caliber."

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