May 20, 2010
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Political endorsements are often ineffective, says University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) political communications expert Larry Powell, Ph.D., co-author of the book Political Campaign Communication: Inside and Out.
"In general, endorsements are worthless and don't often lead to victories for most candidates, even when the individuals giving the endorsements are extremely popular," says Powell, who teaches in the UAB Department of Communication Studies. "There always will be some voters who don't like the individual making the endorsement, and those voters will be more likely to vote against the endorsement rather than for it. And newspaper endorsements often hurt candidates, costing them as much as 3 percent in the polls.
"Endorsements by large organizations that can pass on the endorsements to their membership, however, can be effective," Powell says, "particularly in minor races where voters haven't really thought about who is the best candidate. So they are more likely to check the endorsement and go with that candidate. But if it is a high-profile election for governor or lieutenant governor, an endorsement usually will have little impact on voters because they often have thought a lot about the candidates."
According to a new poll, that may be the case for U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., who is running in the Alabama Democratic primary for governor. Davis, who is African-American, has not sought the endorsements of African-American political organizations. But a poll commissioned by and paid for by Davis' campaign shows him with 50 percent of the African-American vote, while his opponent, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, has just 25 percent of the African-American vote. Sparks recently received endorsements from two African-American organizations in Alabama, the New Jefferson County Citizens Coalition and the Jefferson County Progressive Council.
"Davis didn't get the endorsements from the African-American organizations because he didn't want them," says Powell. "It is part of his strategy - to win the party nomination without those endorsements.
"But in Alabama, such endorsements have been extremely important in the Democratic Party. The person who gets those endorsements has a major edge in winning the primary. But Davis didn't go after those endorsements because he and the heads of those groups haven't gotten along, and the groups in the past supported his opponent.
"Past congressional races have taught Davis how to appeal to black voters without the endorsement of African-American political groups," says Powell. "He won his congressional seat without the endorsement of those political organizations, and he thinks that he can win statewide too."
About the UAB College of Arts and Sciences
The UAB Department of Communication Studies is housed in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, home to academic disciplines that include the arts, humanities, sciences and the School of Education. The college's unique structure advances research and learning in both K-12 and higher education, and its courses are taught by a world-class faculty. Committed to the UAB spirit of independence and innovation, the college enables students to design their own majors, participate in undergraduate research or complete graduate degrees on a five-year fast track. Through productive partnerships, flexible curricula and a bold, interdisciplinary approach to learning and teaching, the college is preparing students for success in the ever-changing global marketplace of commerce and ideas.