Tuned In

Stephen Colbert, President of the Twentysomethings

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Maybe he really does have something to laugh about: according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports, in a three-way presidential race with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Colbert would pull 13% of the vote. (Hat tip to my friends-I’ve-never-met at fellow TIME blog Real Clear Politics, who pointed to this the other day, but I’m not sure our audiences overlap much.)

Like many polls at this early stage, this one is fascinating and probably meaningless. For starters, and it’s easier to “vote” for a third-party candidate in theory a year before the election is actually held. And this poll follows polling that showed Colbert drawing a much smaller percentage of primary voters nationally. Finally, one would assume that for some respondents, Colbert was serving as a de facto “none of the above” or protest vote. To see how well he’s drawing as Stephen Colbert, one would want to see some comparisons with other hypothetical third-party candidates: Mike Bloomberg, Ralph Nader, a sweet potato, etc.

On the other hand, says Rasmussen, Colbert drew more support than Jon Stewart did in an earlier poll, at 8%. Also, 13% for a fake person: damn. And finally, in said hypothetical matchup, among voters aged 18 to 29, Colbert pulled 28%–and 31% when matched up with Clinton and Fred Thompson.

In both scenarios, Rasmussen says, Colbert had more support among this age group than the Republican candidate. Whatever turnout ends up being among young voters, this can’t be happy news for Republicans. Instead of running Law & Order’s Fred Thompson, maybe they should be drafting Ben Stein, to go after the Comedy Central vote.

Of course, the most interesting-but-likely-meaningless aspect of this poll is that it’s all predicated on Colbert’s actually continuing his campaign, or “campaign,” into the general election. Which, if I had to bet, I’d bet against. I’ve talked to Colbert a grand total of once, in an interview for this feature in 2005, but I got the impression there was a fairly earnest guy under the persona, probably not a guy who seriously would want to play spoiler in a presidential race (as fun as that would make my 2008). I suspect that’s one reason, besides practical logistics, that he’s limited his primary campaign to his home state of South Carolina.

But who knows? If I somebody woke me up and told me I was pulling double digits in the presidential election, I might suddenly be inclined to make more than just fake news.