For the last several years ---my Cambridge neighbor and I have met for a special breakfast at a place we can sit a while. We finish our meal and then pile the table with the ubiquitous candidate flyers and post cards of the campaign season. Then we meticulously go over the printed information with a particular focus on the endorsements.
The validations are shorthand for us, a quick way to know where an unknown or first time candidate stands on Cambridge’s hot button issues: charter schools, rent control, and the Central Square expansion. We judge the candidates based on those endorsers.
Boston voters, too, will play political birds of a feather as they review the endorsements of mayoral candidates John Connolly and Martin Walsh. Both scrambled to get public support from leaders in communities of color where neither drew large numbers.
So far,Walsh has got former candidates Felix Arroyo, John Barros and Charlotte Golar Richie who drew a combined 70 percent of the vote in those communities. Connolly has the support of some of Boston’s most prominent black ministers who lead huge congregations. Which supporters will be most effective?
Even the experts disagree about the impact of endorsements, though they do acknowledge that certain celebrity endorsements have the potential to achieve the holy trinity of political cache---attention, money, and voters. University of Maryland political economists calculated that Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 endorsement of then Senator Barack Obama boosted his profile, drew other big donors, and translated into one million voters.
Oprah’s brand power aside, what is scientifically consistent is that voters don’t pay much attention to endorsements in national races, but they are more likely to pay attention in smaller campaigns like the mayor’s race.
Here’s what I know: many Boston residents are not going to listen to the mayor’s debates, they won’t read the candidates’ position papers, and they’ll ignore newspaper endorsements, but they will vote. This is where the people business experts call “influencers” can be a game changer. In a race where both candidates share the same views on many issues, I look to strong credible proxies to articulate the differences that matter.
Absent the one unquestioned power endorsement---that of Mayor Thomas Menino-- candidates Walsh and Connolly need to remember it’s not about gathering the most endorsements, but the endorsers who can make voters take a second look.