When it comes to gauging the impact of candidate endorsements, does a thumbs-up from the president matter more than, say, the opinion of your spouse? Or your county sheriff? Or a Kardashian?
For that matter, does any endorsement count for much anymore?
In today’s hyperpartisan political environment, the clout of endorsements might be on the wane. When so much in politics is painted red or blue but rarely purple, any single testimonial seems unlikely to add much to the conversation.
“I think a lot of endorsements are party-line, and so being an independent, it doesn’t sway me as much,” said Rebecca Garcia, a member of a voters panel assembled by the Review-Journal for this year’s elections.
As with most subjects in politics, though, the matter is open to debate. Heading into the homestretch in this year’s races, the topic is getting attention in Nevada both for endorsements bestowed and those withheld.
Outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval this week gave Sen. Dean Heller, a fellow Republican, a shot in the arm in his contest with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen with a full-throated endorsement that included a 30-second TV ad.
At the same time, Sandoval has declined to endorse in the governor’s race, withholding his support for Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
Nor has Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Commissioner Steve Sisolak, officially endorsed the winner of that race.
“I’ll leave that up to Gov. Sandoval, what he does,” Sisolak said Friday, when asked about endorsements at a campaign event. “What he decides to do politically is up to him.”
Garcia, a self-described “PTA mom” who usually votes Republican, said Sandoval’s move not to endorse Laxalt prompted her to support Sisolak.
“I would define myself very much as a Sandoval type,” she said. “The fact that he won’t endorse Laxalt, that very much has swayed my decision to vote for Sisolak, and quite frankly I’m not a Sisolak fan.”
Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, believes endorsements still carry weight.
“But it really depends on who the endorser is,” he added. “And I’ll take Brian Sandoval’s endorsement.”
The governor, Herzik said, “is the most popular elected official in the state.” Not only that, the TV ad Sandoval recorded for Heller touched on areas where Heller might be vulnerable, including issues of interest to veterans and women.
Herzik said other endorsements, such as those from law enforcement and labor groups, can have less impact because there are so many of those organizations and their agendas might not be well known to voters. National endorsements also count for less because they are expected to fall along party lines.
The lack of an endorsement “generally is important in that the media picks that up, and it is (important) for political elites,” Herzik said. In Nevada this year, that’s true both for Laxalt, with Sandoval, and Sisolak, with Giunchigliani.
Endorsements might be most effective when they confirm opinions of a candidate among supporters and rally them to the polls. That’s what the Morning Consult found last February in a survey of nearly 2,000 registered voters.
Among its takeaways, the survey measured the power of endorsements from politicians like Barack Obama and Donald Trump, religious figures like Pope Francis, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Obama and Trump were tops. The pope ranked ahead of Brady but, in a possible sign of the end times, behind Kardashian.
And what it that endorsement is actually a fake? Sure, those can be smoked out, but if they hit right near Election Day, can they be debunked in time?
In 2016, a photo of actor Harrison Ford was doctored to show him holding a pro-Trump sign. (He was holding a small sign for Reddit, an internet site.)
Or remember in 2016 when Pope Francis endorsed Trump? (Um, he didn’t.)
And just this week, someone in Texas was advertising for voice actors to play the president of Iran for a fake endorsement of Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who wants to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz.
Maybe the potential for manipulation or fakery is another reason to discount endorsements the way Levi Rothman does. He’s a Democrat on the Review-Journal voter panel who says endorsements are “a bunch of nonsense. I can evaluate the issues myself.”
And Howard Galin, a Republican on the panel, said he “couldn’t care less about endorsements” that come from the national level.
“However, with that said, I was impressed with Brian Sandoval’s endorsement of Dean Heller,” he added. “Did he change my mind? No. I’m voting for Dean Heller anyway.”
Having the candidate’s back
So whose endorsement counts the most among voters? A Morning Consult poll this year found that it varies depending on party affiliation.
The poll of 1,995 registered voters ranked the impact of endorsements from a list of politicians, special-interest groups, faith leaders, business people, and various celebrities.
Among Democrats, the top five endorsements, in order, came from Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.
For Republicans, the top five were the Republican Party, Donald Trump, your spouse, Mike Pence, and George W. Bush.
The most important among independents? Your spouse, followed by Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, your mayor, and Warren Buffett. Overall, endorsements were far less influential among independents compared to Democrats or Republicans.