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Getting Out the Parody Vote
by Manny Frishberg

3:00 a.m. Sep. 14, 2024 PDT


SEATTLE -- Laughing at political candidates can turn out to be serious business. Just ask Zack Exley.

His site, probably the best known parody of George W. Bush's official campaign website, is now making money from banner ads and merchandise.


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But his commercial success is only part of the story, according to Barbara Warnick, a communications professor at the University of Washington who has been studying parody websites in this year's presidential campaign.

She believes parody sites -- of which there are many -- could actually be influencing voters.

"While many readers could freely sample site content and be entertained, they were (also) likely to be persuaded," Warnick says in an as-yet-unpublished study.

Warnick found that as parody sites become more sophisticated, they are also becoming more influential, especially because almost a quarter of Internet users say they receive at least some of their information about the candidates online.

It's still unclear whether the sophistication of the sites will result in fooling a segment of the voting population.

"The people who are most likely to be affected by parody sites are the ones whose opinions about the candidates are the least well-formed," said Jan P. Vermeer, a political science professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Exley's site,, is quite close in tone to the official site, sounding so realistic that it offers a false sense of credibility.

Then again, the Bush campaign didn't do itself any favors by drawing attention to the site.

The campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which decided there were too many other, serious matters to bother with it.

But the notoriety attending the Bush campaign's humorless reaction propelled Exley's site, and others like it, to national prominence.

A number of the websites Warnick studied are not only wickedly funny, but technically advanced as well, keeping pace with the official sites they're satirizing.

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