Many Americans are dreading the outcome of the upcoming election between two of the most disliked presidential candidates in American political history. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have stirred up drama, hope, and contempt throughout this election cycle, leaving voters searching for a light at the end of the tunnel.
That light has been found in the comedic relief of “Saturday Night Live.”
Political satire has been around since the dawn of political time, thriving on the good, bad and ugly of all things politics. Opposing sides may not always agree, but both sides can find common ground in mutual mockery. In this sense, political satire may bring opposing sides together—especially this year, when both candidates are so painfully laughable that the caricatures are more likable than the real thing.
This election, in particular, has provided comedians with a gold mine of material. Voters are inundated with news coverage of the two candidates and their seemingly endless stream of scandals, controversy and downright roasting of one another. As entertaining as this election has been, most voters are tired—or even scared—of the looming outcome.
To cope with the stress of this election, as with most political frustrations, voters are increasingly turning to political satire.
Just a few days after the most watched presidential debate in history on September 26 (84 million viewers!), SNL launched its newest season, enjoying its highest viewership and ratings since 2008, with a 5.8 Nielsen rating. Only the most recent episode, hosted by Tom Hanks, beat out the premiere ratings with a 6.1.
SNL, among other political satire shows, has increasingly become a main source of news for voters. It is the modern day digital political cartoon. The digital format allows for video clips to be shared to a much larger audience than that of the live, late-night showing, making the show competitive in viewership to traditional, hard news television. The YouTube clips of SNL’s three presidential debates have upward views of 20 million, 17 million and 9 million, respectively.
Voters are turning to SNL because the caricatures of the prominent political figures are not too far off from reality. Both Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin have mastered their respective portrayals of Clinton and Trump and have garnered a large support group.
In the past four “cold opens”—the intro segments of each show—cast members have reenacted the recent presidential and vice presidential debates. They have been able to cover the highlights of each debate in a way that makes otherwise serious concerns laughable, particularly concerning the characters of both candidates.
Clinton is largely considered cold and unrelatable and Trump is criticized for his temperament. Both of their SNL counterparts show the “real” versions of the candidates.
McKinnon consistently vocalizes the “power-driven” narrative that Clinton gives off but has never actually claimed. She is able to make Clinton more relatable, which is the biggest struggle of the candidate in real life.
Baldwin, on the other hand, plays up the boisterous persona of Trump, emphasizing his facial and hand expressions, while still being not too far off from reality. Baldwin’s Trump, however, is still more likable than the real Trump and viewers cannot get enough.
Both candidates are plagued by poor popularity ratings nationally, but the SNL versions could be giving them hope. As we get closer to Election Day, voters are tuning in to SNL to get a more lighthearted version of an otherwise lose-lose situation. Political figures should take advantage of this outlet to reach more voters. Humility can make anyone more personable and connect voters to the people they may vote for.
SNL has played a pretty heavy role in creating lasting perceptions of candidates– both good and bad. In 1976, when SNL was launched, Chevy Chase portrayed President Gerald Ford as clumsy after an unfortunate stumble on Air Force One. Ford appeared on the show and tried to use the joke to his advantage, but, unfortunately his audience did not buy it, costing him the election in 1976. Furthermore, presidential hopefuls Al Sharpton and John McCain made SNL appearances that actually improved their public image, although neither were elected president.
McCain hosted SNL on October 19, 2008, just a few weeks before the election. In the polls conducted after the show, his favorability among voters went up and stayed favorable through the election. Although the show was not able to win him the presidency, he was able to end his campaign on a high note.
Several political figures, including Clinton and Trump, have made guest appearances on SNL and have acted in skits alongside the caricatures of themselves. Both of the political frontrunners were on the show within weeks of each other last fall; however, SNL received significant backlash after its decision to allow Donald Trump to host the show, while only featuring Hillary Clinton.
Politics aside, the appearance of both candidates on the show has done wonders for their public perception. SNL and other late night comedy shows provide a platform for candidates to reach a broader audience and show a different side of their personality. If a candidate can work with their comedic portrayals that SNL provides, voters will see them as relatable and likable. If the candidate cannot take a joke, the public won’t be so eager to view them in a positive light.
Most political candidates are not comedians – and they are not expected to be. Although it is beneficial for a candidate to make appearances on shows like SNL, even just to seem more relatable, it is also best for them to let the real comedians portray them how they see fit. Voters will like a candidate more if they can not only laugh at them, but laugh with them.
This may be SNL’s prime year for political satire. SNL is changing the way voters get their news and approach politics as a whole. The results of this election will certainly continue to fuel SNL skits for years to come, and the show should not be written off for its valuable contribution to the news industry even after the chaos of the 2016 presidential election dies down.