Herman Cain, gamely trying to claw his way back onto the national stage, is promising an “unconventional” endorsement in the GOP primary race on January 19th. Cain, having never been elected to anything, is not a politician, and he’s no longer a businessman, so it’s fair to call this a celebrity endorsement. Do those ever have any impact?
A 2008 study examined this question using the example of Oprah’s endorsement of Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries. The authors admit that Oprah’s prominence is unique even among celebrities: “If a celebrity endorsement is ever going to have an empirically identifiable influence, then it is likely to be hers.” Through her TV show and magazine, Oprah had a ready-made platform to reach her viewers, and through her book club, she had an established channel of influence. By using O: The Oprah Magazine subscriptions as measures of Oprah’s popularity in given geographic areas, the authors constructed a measure of her impact on Obama’s vote count. They found that Oprah’s endorsement “was responsible for 1,015,559 votes for Obama.” Herman Cain may have some influence among Republican primary voters, but it’s doubtful he can turn out a million voters for his chosen candidate. Maybe he should start a magazine.