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Do political endorsements matter?

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Election Day draws closer, candidates are looking to secure every vote possible. One strategy involves help from big voices. Do political endorsements matter? Good Question. WCCO's Jeff Wagner learned what it takes for one to actually impact elections.

As voters hit the polls, it's safe to say many often knew which names they would bubble in months before the election. But campaign strategists know a few words said aloud or even typed in a Tweet might sway voters.

"Generally speaking, voters look for information shortcuts in order to make political decisions at times and endorsements can provide some of those cues," said Costas Panagopoulos.

Panagopoulos chairs the political science department at Northeastern University and is the editor of American Politics Research journal.

Do political endorsements matter?

"The outcomes can sometimes shift, but not by very much. But in very tight races they can be consequential," he said.

Let's say an endorsement has the power to sway 2% of voters. If a candidate is down 10 points in the polls, the endorsement bump won't matter. But if the race is a tossup, that could be a difference maker.

What makes an endorsement strong?

"It depends quite a bit on the characteristics of the endorsement," Panagopoulos said.

The credibility of the endorser is key. People often trust someone who is knowledgeable about politics, like a politician or someone who previously held the seat in the race. The characteristics of the audience are also important. Having an endorser who directly "speaks" to a certain audience can help a message land well.

There are certain types of voters more likely to be influenced by an endorsement as well.

Panagopoulos said the uninformed, such as people who haven't researched the candidates or issues, could be swayed. Undecided voters might also get a nudge in one direction thanks to an endorsement. Independents without a political affiliation might also be influenced if the endorser is someone they trust.

Is timing important for the endorsement?

"Oftentimes candidates try to capitalize on the interest in an election and the closing days of an election," Panagopoulos said.

That's because some voters don't even pay attention to an election until days before it happens.

But early endorsements can be influential as well. Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of then-Senator Barack Obama is looked at as a key turning point in him earning the Democratic nomination for president and eventually his first term in 2008.

Many other factors carry more weight than endorsements when it comes to election outcomes, said Panagopoulos. The state of the economy, party identification, the candidates' stance on key issues have a stronger impact than endorsements.

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