POSTED ON MAY 1, 2013:
Politics As Usual?
Candidates chase frivolity
In the political world, the equivalent of a Facebook user getting "liked" is the "endorsement" of a political candidate. Candidates for every political office start out early trying to garner as many endorsements as they can. By the end of the campaigns, the list of endorsements can be quite long.
But what's the point of an endorsement? And do they really matter at the end of the election?
There are many reasons why candidates pursue endorsements. Often, it has a lot to do with the motivation of the endorser or the candidate's campaign platform. For instance, if you are a law-and-order type of candidate, you'd like the endorsement of the sheriff. If you're running for an executive position in government -- like president, governor, or mayor -- you'd like someone who has previously held that post to endorse you. An endorsement by someone who's walked in those shoes lends credibility to your campaign. Sometimes, the endorsements come from a group or organization that claims to speak for all of its members. Often, that's only partially true. If you want people to believe that you really are a liberal or conservative, you'll seek out the most liberal or conservative people or organizations for an endorsement. Candidates can usually count on the endorsement of their party's leadership, as well as past and current office-holders from their party. This type of endorsement is like putting your parents as a reference on your resume -- it doesn't carry a great deal of credibility.
On the other hand, endorsements come with strings attached. If you are endorsed by a collective bargaining union, you are expected to deliver if you win. Once elected, the message is clear: "you owe us, and it's time to pay up."
Endorsements can be used to define the candidate. They are used to make voters feel safe and secure in voting for a particular candidate because she has been endorsed by an organization that has vetted the candidate and given her their blessing. Often, members of these groups have neither the time nor inclination to do their own research or evaluation of the candidate. Rather, they rely upon the endorsement of the leadership of the organization, and then just vote with the flow.
Many endorsements come from single-issue groups, such as right-to-life or right-to-bear-arms organizations. These groups only care where the candidate stands on their particular issues. This makes sense when taking into consideration the fact that for a considerable number of voters, single issues like these will sway their votes. These single-issue groups know this. As a result, either a candidate is for or against what the organization stands for, and that's as far as they need to go when considering whether to proffer said endorsement.
Some endorsements are more sought after than others. An endorsement by someone seen as a hero, a star, or a celebrity seems to be more valuable than one from someone who isn't. Most informed voters, however, aren't going to make their voting decision based on which candidate some actor or singer says to pick. If you're a "deep" thinker, you will read and listen to everything you can before making up your mind. If you're a "shallow" thinker, you'll decide based upon whoever J.Lo or Bruce Springsteen tells you to support.
Sometimes, the more inclusive you sound, the more likely you are to pick up the endorsement of a certain population. George W. Bush tried that when he spoke Spanish to appeal to Hispanic voters. He obviously concluded that if he spoke their language fluently, they would like him more. It wasn't a bad conclusion.
An Offer You Canít... Hey, buddy. Need some votes? First oneís free.
Then, of course, there are the newspaper endorsements. In reality, if newspapers were completely unbiased, you might think they have done all of the homework, done a truth test on all of the candidates' claims, done a fair and impartial evaluation of the candidate, and then made their endorsements. Usually, though, that's not the case, as most papers already have a reputation of being either liberal or conservative. Once in a while, they'll surprise you and actually endorse someone you never thought they would endorse. Depending on the paper, some candidates see a newspaper endorsement as the kiss of death and are delighted when they don't get it.
Perhaps the best kind of endorsement is the political financial contribution. Putting your money on a candidate is a pretty strong endorsement. Sometimes, however, donors don't want to be known as backing a particular candidate, so they will donate an amount that is under the amount required to be publicly disclosed. And that's a pretty weak endorsement. Then, of course, you have the donors who will split their endorsement and give equally to more than one candidate running for the same position. This is hedging one's bets, and it puts the donor in a can't-lose position. That's a half-baked endorsement -- the money is helpful to the candidate, but the endorsement factor is zero.
As alluded to above, endorsements can backfire. If you seek the endorsement of organizations which are at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, someone is going to question either your believability or sincerity. For example, if you have the endorsement of the fiscally-conservative, limited-government, controlled-spending Tea Party, it's going to be hard for them to believe you if you also have the endorsement of a public employees' union that believes in bigger government and more spending. If you think you can stand for everything, then you end up standing for nothing.
At the end of the day, how many people actually go into the voting booth remembering any of the endorsements? Certainly some must, but most don't. Most people don't live single-issue lives, nor do they generally decide who to vote for based on what some stranger tells them. Then again, there are a lot of people who pay little attention to campaign ads, mail, or political organizations. They either vote a straight party ticket or they ask a person close to them who they should vote for.
One of the saddest things in elections today is that so many people who vote have no good reason for who they choose. They may like how the candidate looks, or they like his nationality, or they thought the commercials were good, or they simply vote for him because they've always voted Democrat or Republican. But these people are usually the first to complain because things haven't turned out the way they thought they would.
In the end, endorsements are like distant relatives. You can't live with them and you can't live without them.
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