PRINCETON, NJ -- Presidential candidates will take almost any help they can get in their quest for the Oval Office. Sen. Barack Obama is getting a highly publicized assist from popular talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in his presidential bid, based on her formal endorsement of his candidacy this past May. The value of this type of endorsement is unclear, however, as most Americans say endorsements are not an important factor in their presidential vote. More to the point, relatively few Americans say Winfrey’s specific endorsement increases the likelihood they will vote for Obama. Support for Obama as the Democratic nominee has not changed much over the course of the year, but has dipped to one of its lowest points in the most recent Gallup update.
Little Perceived Impact of Winfrey's Endorsing Obama's Candidacy
The Oct. 12-14, 2007, poll asked Americans how Winfrey's endorsement of Obama for president would affect their voting decisions next year. The vast majority -- 81% -- say her endorsement will make no difference to their vote for president. There is little difference between the percentage of Americans who say they are more likely to vote for Obama (8%) and the percentage who say they are more likely to vote against him (10%) because of the endorsement.
(Asked of a half sample) As you may know, Oprah Winfrey has endorsed Barack Obama for president. Would you say that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement makes you more likely to vote for Obama, does it make no difference, or does it make you more likely to vote against Obama? [Is that much more likely to vote [for/against], or only somewhat more likely?]
More generally, most Americans do not consider endorsements from prominent people to be an important factor in helping to determine which candidate they support for president. Only 16% say such endorsements are “very important” to them, while an additional 21% say they are “somewhat important.” The majority of 61% say the endorsements are "not too" (23%) or "not at all" (38%) important to their vote.
When deciding which candidate you will support for president, how important are endorsements the candidate receives from prominent people -- very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all?
The poll finds that Democrats (41%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (30%) to say endorsements are important to their vote, though a majority of both groups say endorsements are not that important to their vote choice.
This result and the fact that Winfrey is endorsing a Democrat suggest a potentially greater impact for the endorsement than would be the case if she were endorsing a Republican. (It is important to note that this analysis does not include a review of how blacks feel on this matter, because this poll’s sample size for this population is too small to analyze.)
Americans' Opinion of Winfrey Down
The current poll finds that 66% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of Winfrey, while 26% have an unfavorable opinion of her. Winfrey's favorable rating is lower now than in any of the four polls in which Gallup has measured the public's opinion of her. Winfrey's ratings were 7 to 12 percentage points higher in previous polls.
Winfrey's favorable rating is down among most subgroups of Americans, but the decline appears to be greater among Americans aged 50 and older. Among that age group, 61% of adults have a favorable opinion of Winfrey in the latest poll. Prior to that, Winfrey's favorable rating among this group was between 72% and 75%. Among adults aged 18 to 49, Winfrey's rating has remained quite stable over this time, currently at 71% -- down only slightly from 74% in the prior two readings.
Democrats have consistently rated Winfrey more favorably than Republicans over the years. However, Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama was a patently political move that aligns her directly with the Democratic Party. Indeed, Republicans’ favorable opinions of her have declined, from 69% in January to 59% in the current poll. However, Democrats’ opinions of Winfrey have also become less positive, showing a drop of seven points, from 78% to 71%. Thus, it is not clear that her Obama endorsement is the reason for her slightly subdued favorable rating.
Overall, younger women and blacks are the groups most likely to rate Winfrey favorably -- 85% of women between the ages of 18 and 49 and 83% of blacks say they have a favorable opinion of Winfrey. At least three in four Americans in the following groups rate her favorably as well: nonwhites (79%), women (77%), those living in urban areas (77%), self-described liberals (75%), and parents with children under 18 (75%). (The 83% of blacks who rate Winfrey favorably is based on the average results of the three polls conducted from 2003 to 2007.)
It is difficult to measure the precise impact of Winfrey’s endorsement on Obama’s standing in the Democratic nomination race. He averaged 23% in four polls in February, March, and early April -- all conducted before Winfrey endorsed him -- and has averaged 24% in the four most recent Gallup election polls. So support for Obama is essentially unchanged spanning her endorsement. In fact, though likely not because of Winfrey’s involvement in his candidacy, Obama’s fortunes may be beginning to turn downward. In the most recent Gallup Poll election update, 21% of Democrats supported Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, one of his worst showings to date. His current 29-point deficit to Clinton on the national test ballot is the largest he has faced.
Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama will likely aid his candidacy only at the margins, and that would not be enough for him to overcome his current large deficit to Clinton. But Winfrey’s appeal to certain groups – such as women -- could help Obama perform better among these groups than he would otherwise.
Among groups of voters that view both Obama and Winfrey favorably, such as blacks, the endorsement may not change minds but may primarily reinforce existing views. That reinforcement could help motivate voters to turn out to vote or to work in support of Obama’s candidacy.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 12-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.