Monday, March 3, 2008

Pol Pop

Dave loves when I talk politics. But I'll do it anyway.

A recent Zogby International poll gave us some pointless poll numbers to pretend are meaningful. Who could resist?

The poll question was:

When a celebrity endorses a presidential candidate, does it influence your vote?

The responses?

Yes, I pay attention to celebrities I respect 3%

Yes, in a negative way -- I'm less likely to support a candidate who is backed by celebrities 7%

No, I don't think celebrities have any expertise in politics 49%

No, but it's still interesting to know who's supporting which 40%

Don't know / no opinion 1%

The poll claims to have a margin of error of +/- 1.1 %. I took statistics in college, so I have a vague recollection of how to generate margin of error, but even with that, I think this poll is way WAY off. Mainly because they didn't ask the right question.

Remember when Mike Huckabee surprised the political pinheads by winning in Iowa? Remember what the key image from that moment was? I bet you do, because it was Mike giving his victory speech with Walker, Texas Ranger standing a little behind and to the right (appropriately enough) of the candidate.

Remember the fuss that was made in the media over that? You can do it. It was only a brief month or so ago. That fuss is what a celebrity endorsement can bring a candidate. People may like to believe they're not influenced by such things, but the fact is, a celebrity endorsement is the difference between being Mike Huckabee and being Mike Gravel. Huckabee isn't going to be elected President this year, but he has become a national figure and a major force in the Republican Party and he owes a lot of it to a washed-up infomercial shill.

Consider the other big celebrity endorsement this political season: Big Giver Oprah Winfrey throwing her support behind Barack Obama. Do people line up lockstep to do whatever Oprah tells them to? Well, yeah, but this isn't about book sales. I'm betting they will tell you they don't, but whether they do or not, Oprah's endorsement got all kinds of media play and bought Obama exposure and interest that he would not have seen otherwise. Depending on how this week's primaries go, he may have locked up the Democratic Presidential nomination. I bet it helped that something more than 3% of the voting public got a few more looks at him than they would have without Oprah.

So it's not about whether the celebrity in question has some sort of expertise in politics. That's ridiculous. It's about whether the celebrity brings more eyes to the candidate, more ears to the speech. Both Oprah and Braddock: Missing in Action 3 accomplished that goal, and both Obama and Huckabee reaped the benefits.

Celebrity endorsements are hit or miss, to be sure. John McCain is still waiting for his Wilford Brimley bump. But the right one at the right time can definitely help, and to the tune of a lot more than 3%. Just like in New Hampshire, the pollsters got it wrong.

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