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In the News: Oprah Winfrey

After Oprah Winfrey delivered a rousing speech while accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night, many discussed whether the media mogul and former talk show host could soon add another achievement to her résumé -- the U.S. presidency.

Public Opinion Context

  • Winfrey has been in the top 10 of Gallup's "Most Admired Woman" list every year since 1988. While Winfrey has never won the No. 1 spot outright, she came close in 2007, when 16% of Americans named her as the woman they most admired, with Hillary Clinton edging her out by two percentage points. In the time since her popular show went off the air in 2011, an average of 5% of Americans have named her as the woman they most admire.
Percentage of Americans Naming Oprah Winfrey as Most Admired Woman

  • In a separate measure, Winfrey received highly positive favorable ratings when Gallup periodically asked Americans for their views of her between 1992 and 2009. Winfrey's highest favorable rating was 78% in 1992, and her lowest was 65% in 2009. Her average favorable rating of 71% across the five times Gallup measured it ranks as one of the highest such averages among the more than 200 prominent people Gallup has asked about over the past three decades.

Favorability Ratings of Oprah Winfrey Among U.S. Adults

  • Though well-liked, Winfrey's most well-known venture into politics to date -- her 2007 endorsement of Barack Obama -- was associated with a slight drop in her public support, perhaps indicative of what might occur were she to enter the political fray again. Just before she endorsed Obama, Winfrey's rating stood at 74%. Shortly after her endorsement, her favorable rating fell to 66%.

  • Oprah's favorable rating fell in 2007 among both Republicans and Democrats, more or less equally. Winfrey's endorsement of a Democrat no doubt caused some Republicans to downgrade their impression of her; and some Democrats, such as those supporting other candidates in the crowded primary field that year.

  • Democrats are currently more likely than Republicans to say Winfrey is the woman alive today that they most admire -- with 7% of Democrats in December 2017 saying this about Winfrey, compared with 2% of Republicans. Overall, Winfrey was the third-most-admired woman in the 2017 update, trailing only Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

Key Takeaway

It is unknown whether Winfrey is interested in pursuing the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. But if she were to run, Winfrey could quickly vault to the front of the pack based on her high name identification, regular appearances on the list of most admired women and her past high favorability ratings. Yet even if Winfrey begins the primary process with favorable ratings similar to her historical average, the wear and tear of a political campaign could quickly weaken her standing with the public, as past presidential candidates can attest.


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