Do endorsements help candidates?

Mike Hasten 12:09 p.m. CDT September 15, 2014


(Photo: Gannett )


BATON ROUGE Candidates for public office often seek out endorsements from political or civic groups or even individuals viewed as having influence in a community.

But whether those endorsements affect voter outcome depends on the race, the candidates involved and how voters were leaning in the first place, observers of politics say.


"Data doesn't suggest that endorsements move too many votes," said Pearson Cross, political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "Still, candidates love to be endorsed by people who support their principles."


"Endorsements are important," said Joshua Stockley, political science professor at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, ""If endorsements weren't important, politicians would have sceased seeking them decades ago.


Endorsements do have an impact on elections, the political scientists agree, but not in a way that someone might think.


"An endorsement is not going to change someone's mind" if the voter was inclined to vote for one candidate over another, Stockley said.

"They only serve to legitimize how people are already leaning."


The best example, he said, is known in political science circles as "The O Effect" when Oprah Winfrey endorsed President Barack Obama.


"It legitimized how people were already feeling," he said. "It made them feel better about voting for him."


Another example, Stockley said, was the 2013 5th Congressional District election runoff between Republicans Vance McAllister and Neil Riser,


"If a Democrat was going to vote in 2013, he was probably going to vote for Vance," he said. "To hear Jamie Mayo come out and say it sealed the deal." An endorsement makes people feel better about a decision they were likely to make."


But don't count on an endorsement completely changing someone's mind, Cross said. If voters prefer one candidate over another "people will continue to ignore the endorsements and vote for people they like. If you're going to vote for Bill Cassidy for Senate, you're not going to vote for Mary Landrieu because of an endorsement,"


"Endorsements are never THE driving force in an election cycle," said Kurt Corbello of Southeastern Louisiana University's political science department. "Yet, candidates look for any advantage that they can get, and the fact that candidates seek endorsements shows that they, at least, think that such things have value.


"From a political science perspective, endorsements in an election cycle are factors somewhere at the back end of the food chain.," Corbello said. "They are indicators to voters as to whether or not they can feel comfortable with a candidate."


Endorsements "have three different audiences of potential benefit to the campaign: voters, volunteers, and financial contributors. I think that endorsements are more so a tool to attract money and volunteers, in the hopes that voters will follow, although their added benefit may be in some capability to sway last-minute, undecided voters in a close election," Corbello said.


Among the endorsements Landrieu received was that of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

The LAE parent group, the National Education Association, gave her a $5,000 contribution. LAE President Debbie Meaux says teachers will be attending a town hall meeting to see how they can get involved in supporting her and other LAE endorsed candidates by working in their campaign offices.


Landrieu, who also has endorsements from the state Democratic Central Committee, the Louisiana Sheriff's Association and a long list of local government officials, will be on the conference call, Meaux said.


Also among Landrieu's endorsements are Boysie Bollinger, former Chair of the Republican Party of Louisiana and Joe Canizaro, real estate developer and Republican fundraiser.


The Democrats also have endorsed Mayo in his bid for the 5th Congressional District race to unseat McAllister and former Gov. Edwin Edwards in his campaign for vacant seat in the heavily Republican 6th District.


Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis said "An endorsement from the state Central Committee means that candidate can work with our coordinated campaign effort, which is focused on grassroots voter contact and get-out-the-vote efforts. We can't get into specific details of the coordinated campaign's strategy, but I can say our 2014 field effort will be unprecedented."


Jon Meadows, press secretary for retired Col. Rob Maness' senatorial campaign, said "Endorsements from conservative leaders like Gov. (Sarah) Palin and organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Family Research Council and the Gun Owners of America are more valuable for candidates like Rob, who unlike Landrieu and Cassidy, aren't already defined in the eyes of the voters.


"Long-time politicians don't really benefit from endorsements because people already know who they are and what they stand for," Meadows said. "For #OneOfUs grassroots candidates like Rob, who is entering the political world from the outside, being able to showcase support from some major figures and groups helps build familiarity and credibility with voters."


He said Maness values most the individual citizens who are endorsing him but he also has support from the Tea Party Express, Eagle Forum, Conservative Majority Fund, Senate Conservatives Fund, Patriot PAC, Restore America's Voice PAC, Marine Vet for Freedom,

Conservative Campaign Committee, Special Operations Speaks, National Defense PAC, Combat Veterans for Congress, Tea Party Leadership Fund, Revive America PAC and a number of other conservative groups.

Cassidy has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a host of others that includes Skip Bertman, former LSU baseball coach and athletic director.


He also has the support of almost every Republican state legislator, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, gun show talk host Tom Greshman, former U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, former U.S. Rep. William Henson Moore, the Louisiana Federation of College Republicans, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Dr. Ben Carson.

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