Obama Endorsement Costs Oprah Fans

Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University’s Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy, has studied Oprah Winfrey’s popularity polls over the years and found that her ratings “plummeted” after endorsing Barack Obama — “almost instantly.”

Obama Endorsement Costs Oprah Fans

Panagopoulos chronicles nearly two decades of “sky high” approval for Winfrey, who was consistently among the most popular woman in the country. Then, in May 2007, she announced her endorsement of Obama.

Almost instantly, Oprah’s popularity in America plummeted. An August 2007 CBS News poll showed only 61 percent of Americans were favorably disposed to her — a considerable drop of 13 percentage points from a similar survey conducted just seven months prior. An October 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll that showed Oprah with a slightly higher 66 percent favorability still reflected a drop.

In late November, she announced she would actively campaign for Obama and then did so.

But by the time Fox News/Opinion Dynamics asked Americans about their attitudes toward Oprah in a survey conducted about 10 days later, Dec. 18-19, Oprah’s favorability ratings had dropped even further — to 55 percent — the lowest level of favorability ever registered for Oprah in opinion surveys. Oprah’s negatives also spiked, with one in three respondents (33 percent) reporting unfavorable impressions of her.

Even worse:

The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.

The lesson?

[P]olitical endorsements carry the risk of alienating fans, often without the reward of considerably boosting support for the candidate. While celebrities are certainly entitled to express their political beliefs — just like every other American — it is possible that the public prefers high-profile entertainment personalities to stay on the tube and off the stump.

Indeed. When celebrities go beyond their craft to engage in political activism, it almost always costs them. Jane Fonda, Ed Asner, Alan Alda, Barbra Streisand, Alec Baldwin, the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, and the late Charlton Heston come to mind. It stands to reason, really. A good actor or singer can entertain people regardless of their politics but actively supporting a cause or candidate will naturally alienate opponents of that cause or supporters of rival candidates.

In Oprah’s case, her fan base is mostly middle class women. Which, of course, is Hillary’s primary constituency.

Story via Memeorandum. Photo credit: Rant Vent Rant.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Democracy, Popular Culture, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    We’ve seen the popularity of stars of both stage and screen drop like stones after endorsing a whacko position. the Baldwin Brothers. Viggo Mortensen. Mellencamp. etc. Why should Winfrey be any different?

    The obvious question becomes why get into that mess in the first place? the answer is simple; You either visably lean left, or you get the cold shoulder from Hollywood. The recently brought up example of Heston should show us that.

  2. Mr. Unite Us says:

    Oprah was called racist, and a gender traitor,
    by people who I suspect have their own race and gender issues.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Is it really news that people favor and support those who agree with them, affirm their identity, and don’t challenge their privilege? Is it news that minorities face greater pressure to conform to the expectations of a country run by rich white males? Is it news that even liberals pressure minorities to support the interests of white liberals? Is it news that white liberals will support rich white women first…the next closest thing to rich white males? Is it news that even middle class feminists expect women of color to conform to their political priorities? NONE of this is news.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Bithead says, “The obvious question becomes why get into that mess in the first place? ”

    Perhaps because some people reach a point where they are willing to speak out and risk ridicule for higher moral goals than popularity and profit. And liberal hollywood didn’t pressure Oprah to hit the campaign trail…that’s ridiculous. I am no fan of Oprah, but no celebrity (regardless of political persuasion), should be encouraged to keep their politics private. We are better as a country for our public figures getting engaged in the political process. I admire Oprah and all celebrities who pursue higher moral ends than popularity, profit, or the narrow concerns of their families.

    Privatize religion, privatize politics, privatize ethics…what are we left with in the public arena? Our empty culture.

  5. LaurenceB says:

    Amen, Jeremy!

    Not to pick on James, but too often these kinds of stories leave the mistaken impression that becoming political active is the wrong choice.

    In my opinion, nothing could be more mistaken. I want more political activism from celebrities, not less. If a celebrity is willing to alienate a portion of their public to make a political statement, I think that shows admirable courage – no matter how “wacko” someone may find their political stance.

  6. Lance says:

    Oprah is not being penalized because of her principles. She is being penalized because, rightly or wrongly, her primary audience sees her as being unprincipled. For many years, Oprah has been an example to her audience of a good, non-racial person. For years, she has advocated that people should follow MLK’s admission to judge people by the content of their character instead of by their skin.

    Yet when a relatively inexperienced black man runs for office and Oprah vigorously supports his campaign over a more experienced alternative that is beloved by most of Oprah’s core audience, her audience perceived Oprah was a hypocrite whose first loyalty was to race. This may be an unfair perception, but it is one to which many in her audience came to hold. As such, Oprah has lost her moral standing with many of her viewers and has probably lost them forever.

  7. Bithead says:

    I am no fan of Oprah, but no celebrity (regardless of political persuasion), should be encouraged to keep their politics private. We are better as a country for our public figures getting engaged in the political process

    Really? That doesn’t seem to have been the reaction to Chuck Heston. When you get to the point where you can explain that disparity, let us know.

  8. Allen says:

    Oprah didn’t endorse a black candidate she endorsed a candidate that she thought would unite the country. Al sharpton ran and Jesse Jackson ran and she did not support them. I have watched Oprah’s show and she has nothing but praise for the Clinton’s. She chose Obama because she like a lot of Americans want positive change. The people that see her less favorable because of that choice are only doing so because they support Hillary. her opinions should and expectations should not be those of her audience.
    if people dislike her for supporting who she thought was the best candidate then they were not true fans ANYWAY!

  9. Grewgills says:

    Why are people acting like all or even most of the support Oprah lost was from Clinton supporters? Is there anything other than some flimsy anecdotal evidence for this? Anyone with greater than 60% favorable ratings must have support from more than just Democrats and likely has support from Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Her drop could be entirely explained by loss of Republican support. My guess would be that the drop consisted mostly of Republicans and right leaners followed by Clinton supporters and then by people that are simply turned off by celebrities involving themselves in politics.

  10. Brenda Gouck says:
  11. Lance says:

    Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are not good examples because no one with any brains (and I believe Oprah is very smart) would ever believe these extremists had a good chance of winning any major election, let alone for POTUS. So why endorse a guaranteed loser? Obama actually has a real chance to be the next president (especially considering Oprah made her decision before Obama’s 20-year relationship with a hatemonger was public knowledge), so Oprah could see that her influence could make a real difference. In her own words, she said I think that my value to him, my support of him, is probably worth more than any check. Oprah is a great businesswoman, she understood what she was doing.

    I do not think all of Oprah’s support was from Clinton supporters (although anecdotal evidence indicates that this group is the most irritated). I agree with Grewgills that Republican viewers also had their noses rubbed in both Oprah’s perceived hypocrisy and her now blatant pro-Democrat beliefs. So I expect many of these viewers also quit watching although I doubt the Oprah’s fall is only due to them.

    I am not aware of any empirical survey that has tested the issue so we are limited to anecdotal evidence despite the many flaws. Although if someone can find a link to the original ABC/Washington Post survey, I will be glad to review the data and see what is really there. Or if people really care about this issue, set up a fund and we can empirically test this. However, having the real facts would probably eliminate all this fun discussion…

  12. Triumph says:

    Oprah’s “popularity” ratings mean nothing. She is a business person and by measures of her business success, she is still thriving–if not excelling.

    Last week her talk show was the 8th most watch television program of the season–remarkable given that it is on during the middle of the day.

    In addition, her new Sunday night show led all ratings for the time period and moved ABC to a position of dominance.

  13. DL says:

    Unfortunately, Oprah, like the New York Times can well afford to take the hit and lose popularity. Their choice -both of them -was to sell their souls for political propaganda.

  14. Ericka says:

    With all the money Oprah has (thanks to middle class woman) I doubt she is losing sleep over her drop in popularity. Oprah has always marched to the beat of her own drum, and I doubt that will ever change.

  15. Jim says:

    The article’s conclusion is pure speculation ignoring a myriad of dynamics that surround entertainers and the entertainment business.

  16. Sally says:

    LANCE, what the heck are you talking about? You sound like one of those “Typical White Persons.”
    Are you inferring that Oprah’s primary audience is racist? As long as she makes White people feel good in their skin, she’s OK with them, RIGHT? It’s not a problem when White people endorse their own race for elected office but it becomes a problem when Oprah shows favor to her own race. At what point did White folk think Oprah became White like them? Explain to me how Oprah can be a hypocrite for supporting Barack Obama? He’s the same nationality as she. Oprah is very intelligent, like most Blacks. She did her homework and realized that it’s time for a Change in the White House. We’re tired of the same old political game that’s being played in the White House. American people have suffered the blunt of this game playing. Obama is the most qualified individual running for President. If you were not a racist, you would realize that.
    Another thing: What is a Good, Non —racial person. Do you White Folk really think like that? Oprah has enough money where she does not have to kiss anyone’s a** to get along with them. I can’t wait till she gets her own TV station.

  17. Lisa Hampton says:

    As a black woman, i am not surprised at all by the reaction by mostly white middled aged women. They have shown their true colors in this election. In my opinion they are more racist than a white man could ever be. If i were Oprah, I would not lose any sleep over it and knowing Oprah she is not. Many white women are nothing but a bunch of cry babies. If they don’t get their way they start throwing a fit. Many of them have always been jealous of Oprah’s success and is using this election as an excuse to start bad mouthing her. Oprah is the best example for women. She teaches women to work hard and suck up the difficulties of life. Unlike Hillary, who goes on national TV crying and being manipulative to gain an advantage, just like a typical white woman. Oprah has always been my role model and always will be.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Oprah is penalized because she is first and foremost a RACIST and than a HYPOCRITE. This whole Obama race is about being black first and substance last. She donated millions to his campaign and then he returned some by using her network for advertising his campaign.

    She was sitting in the same church and listening to the same pastor as he did for a very long time. All of her actions and shows do one way or another reflects her racism and finally the viewers see her who she really is.

    Elizabeth, proud Canadian

  19. Lance says:

    You show your own racism with your assumption that I am white and my comments are racially motivated. Like many Americans I believe I’m a hybrid of European, African, and American Indian stock. Similar to Obama in many ways, although I do not know if he has any Indian heritage.

    I was not inferring racism in either Oprah’s audience or the general public (the article in question referred to her popularity in the general public). I explicitly stated that Oprah was perceived as being racist after many years of being perceived otherwise.

    I think the whole situation is really sad. The current situation has done more to harm racial healing than anything else in the last two decades. There is very little policy difference between Hillary and Obama; one has many more years of experience and the other is a better speaker.

    Take a look at the responses on this own thread for an example of the damage done by this situation. The pro-Oprah people (many who stated they were black women) think the upset white women are racist for not supporting Oprah. The pro-Hillary people think Oprah is racist for supporting the first qualified black candidate for President. If Oprah is not racist why she did not support previous qualified Democratic candidates who were not black?

    Elizabeth, I was not aware Oprah had attended Wright’s church. However, I just fact checked this and found an article related to our thread that confirms your point. Do you know how long she attended? If it was just a few visits, I can understand that. It may take a few times to observe that Wright is a real hatemonger and not just having a bad day. However if Oprah attended for more than a few sessions, that’s pathetic.

    Even more than the Oprah situation (which is a trivial matter except for what is says about racial relations today), I found it horrifying that thousands of people supported Wright’s hate speech for decades until his racism was exposed.

  20. Mark D says:

    Ho-Hum. Keep watching, silly people. All of this is SO predictable. Oprah’s popularity is already bouncing back, and will ultimately be even a bit higher than it was before sliding – particularly
    if Obama wins the presidency (a greater than 50% probability right now).

    Mark D in PA