Breaking Boundaries| Developing a Normative Approach to Political Satire: An Empirical Perspective

R. Lance Holbert


This article offers a formal normative assessment of political satire. It summarizes social scientific research on the influence of political satire and findings on the normative implications of political satire within a democratic framework. Two cogent lines of empirical research, persuasion and understanding, receive special attention. Political satire’s potential to generate normatively positive democratic effects is examined according to three competing theories of democracy: republicanism, pluralism, and elitism. Reports of its relatively small effect prevent clear normative judgments on satire as good or bad for democracy. However, its relationship to internal political self-efficacy merits further investigation. At the system level, political satire might generate significant normatively positive effects in the republican and elitist democratic frameworks. Examples of U.S. traditional political satire reveal the boundaries within which satire functions and their impact on the normative roles of this potentially important form of political discourse.

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