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The awesome power of Oprah August 5, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : US Presidential election , comments closed

The Monkey Cage blogBarack and Oprah

brought my attention to an interesting and slightly disturbing paper by Craig Garthwaite and Tim Moore of Maryland University. They have analyzed the effect Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama has had on his campaign. And it appears Mrs. Winfrey really deserves her places on Forbes’ lists of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Firstly, their research method is quite ingenious. Among other things they’ve looked at the sales of books recommended in Oprah’s bookclub to measure the level of influence she holds over consumer attitudes in different areas. This is interesting enough on its own when they report that the sale of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina increased from nearly 12,000 copies before her endorsement to 650,000 copies afterwards!

The authors, both economists, present a formal (aka. mathematical) model for calculating the effect of the endorsement based on models about the effect of endorsements by interest groups.

Comparing this measure and others with election results from the primaries gives a good indication about where and how much Oprah’s endorsement was worth for Obama. And quite disturbingly they estimate that it gained him between 400,000 and 1,6 million votes(!).

Furthermore, the lower bound of that estimate is higher than the number of votes Obama beat Clinton by in the states that were included in the sample. The data thus might be interpreted to indicate that Oprah’s endorsement was the deciding factor in Obama’s victory over Clinton….

This is an economists’ approach to the subject, but the very well documented paper is at least food for thought…

Read the entire paper here: http://www.econ.umd.edu/~garthwaite/celebrityendorsements_garthwaitemoore.pdf