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Kareem: Why Jon Stewart is more important to conservatives than Bill O'Reilly

Conservatives are in trouble. They’re losing members faster than I lost my hair in the ’80s.

Among baby boomers (born 1946-64) and Gen Xers (born 1965-1980), the difference in numbers between Democrats and Republicans was a few percentage points. Among Millennials (born after 1981), however, the gap is much larger: 55 percent are Democrats and 36 percent are Republicans – 19 percentage points. And that gap is growing wider.

While liberals may think that’s good news, I don’t. Our country is better off having intelligent, compassionate and articulate people who disagree in order to keep each other in check and force us to come up with better ideas.

The problem conservatives face is that they have no adequate champion to ride out and joust with their liberal opponent, Jon Stewart. Instead, they’ve been hoisting Bill O’Reilly into the saddle, duct-taping a lance under his arm, and slapping the butt of his noble steed, sending him galloping into battle.

The resulting skirmish can be summed up by the wise words of Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy”: “Oh, that’s gonna leave a mark!”

Yet, when you look at the numbers, it should be O’Reilly skewering Stewart.

Bill O’Reilly’s conservative “The O’Reilly Factor” is Fox’s top-rated news show with about 3.2 million viewers. The liberal “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is Comedy Central’s top-rated comedy show, but has about a million fewer viewers than O’Reilly.

How is it then that Jon Stewart, with a million fewer viewers, is more important to conservatives than Bill O’Reilly?

The short answer is that Jon Stewart is a convincing and energetic recruiter for his political agenda while Bill O’Reilly is more like Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s character on “Saturday Night Live,” assuring his audience that their political agenda “is good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like it.”

Stewart converts; O’Reilly placates.

If conservatives wonder where their new recruits will be coming from to grow their ranks in numbers and voting power, they certainly won’t be coming from O’Reilly’s audience.

This becomes clearer when you take a closer look at the ratings according to the Pew Research Center. Stewart’s show appeals to youth (under 30), while O’Reilly’s show appeals to age (65 and older).

It’s even worse when we look at Stewart’s and O’Reilly’s companion shows, the liberal “The Colbert Report” and the conservative “Sean Hannity Show.” Colbert outdraws Hannity in the 18-49 age group, 81 percent to 3 percent. More bad news came in May when it was reported that Fox News, the flagship of the Conservative fleet, had lost 30 percent of its viewers ages 25-54 in 2013.

One reason for conservatives losing so much ground is that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are able to consistently demonstrate their opponents’ contempt for youth. That sets up a clear “Us (young)” versus “Them (old)” scenario that alienates youth from identifying with conservative values.

More and more people, especially younger people, are getting their news from computers and mobile devices, which is more bad news for conservatives. “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are not only the top late-night talk shows among adults 18-34, but their websites are also top ranked among all late-night talk shows. “The Daily Show” streams four times more videos than all the other late-night talk shows combined (not including “The Colbert Report”). The rise of social media is leaving O’Reilly and Hannity even further behind.

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