Do Endorsements Matter in Election Campaigns?

Dr. Louis Perron
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For those of you who want to read something different than about the coronavirus for a moment, here it is. I have long been arguing that the impact of endorsements in election campaigns is generally overestimated. And I still think that way. The mere raising of hands together, as is customary in some countries, doesn’t move votes by itself. The long lists of people endorsing a candidate, as is common in other countries, mostly serve the egos of the candidates. I remember a focus group respondent who said dismissively that these lists remind her of the final credits after a movie. Few people pay attention to it.

This being said, when we will look back at the 2020 Democratic primary, we will notice some endorsements that really did matter. The key for an endorsement to matter is to have a strategy what exactly you actually want to achieve with it and how it fits into the overall campaign plan. When Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Bernie Sanders shortly after the latter suffered from a heart attack, the goal to accomplish with the endorsement was basically to resurrect the campaign. The message was: We’re all but done, and this is a campaign you must count on in the future.

Arguably, when Congressman Jim Clyburn endorsed Joe Biden shortly before the South Carolina primary, it had a huge impact and probably turned the race around. Joe Biden had long been arguing that he had a tight relationship with the African American community in the state. But the endorsement of the highest ranking African American Democrat in Congress, and a very influential political player in the state, added precious credibility and power to that claim. After that, an entire series of candidates and former rivals endorsed Biden. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are some of them. The message to voters was that everybody who doesn’t want a Socialist as the Democratic standard bearer, is now falling in line behind Biden.

Any prediction has become difficult. Who knows how the world and U.S. politics will look like in two weeks or in two months? Will there be conventions, rallies and debates? Will there even be an election in November? But if Biden does become the Democratic candidate, Congressman Clyburn is probably one of the first people he will call to say thank you.

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