Do Endorsements Actually Matter?

Posted: October 23, 2019 | By: Kiley Roach Tagged: Blog

It’s a big week for the 2020 Democratic contest. In the followup of the fourth Democratic Debate – the first of the debates to be held on one single stage – a creeping number of endorsements for presidential candidates have been given by big wigs in the party. 

The big endorsement from this week? Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, went on record and (not so surprisingly) threw her support behind Senator Bernie Sanders. The only other member of the “squad” to endorse Sanders was freshman Representative Ilhan Omar. The endorsements leaked just after the fourth debate that took place on Tuesday.

It is a big deal to get endorsements from such strong, headline-making women. AOC and the other members of the squad have a seemingly endless supply of political capital. They are savvy at utilizing social media in order to appeal to their base – young, college-educated white voters in urban areas. Sanders’ poll numbers have been dwindling in recent weeks, with a new poll from Emerson College shows support for Sanders tanking in Iowa. I look forward to seeing whether or not this endorsement helps Sanders in early states, or if it will affect his performance at all. Thankfully, networks like FiveThirtyEight are meticulous about tracking endorsements. Typical endorsers are usually high-ranking members of the party, non-profit groups, celebrities, and locally elected officials. Even newspapers endorse candidates from time to time, as was the case for then-candidate Trump in 2016. In early November, just days before the nation would vote for their next president, a story broke that revealed the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan had formally endorsed Trump’s candidacy. Known as the Crusader, the paper gave a glowing endorsement of the candidate, which was swiftly condemned by the Trump campaign. While the endorsement from a fringe group caused a significant amount of backlash and sparked massive criticism from the left, Trump still managed to win the Electoral College.

That begs the question, then, do endorsements really matter at all? Are endorsements from Iowa more or less significant than from states that vote later in the primary? The FiveThirtyEight’s Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver argues that yes, endorsements matter. He said, “the theory is not necessarily that the endorsements directly influence voters — for instance, that a voter says to herself “Senator Such-and-Such is endorsing Governor So-and-So; guess I’m going to vote for So-and-So!”… Rather, it’s that endorsements are a proxy for support from “party elites,” and that party elites’ preferences tend to be a leading indicator of voter preferences.” At the end of the day, endorsements are all about timing. Sanders’ recent heart attack was certainly no help to his numbers, and the news of AOC’s endorsement helped deflect some concern over his hospital-stay. In a field as wide and crowded as this one, endorsements are slim-pickings. Candidates should be doing everything they can to secure as many endorsements as possible before the 2020 precinct caucuses, especially from influential political figures in Iowa.