The Washington Post

Endorsement season is over

Mitt Romney met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning. Add this to the even-lengthening list of things in the presidential campaign that you can safely ignore.

It’s worth an explanation. During the nomination fight, endorsements were quite important, for their own importance and as key signals about what party actors were thinking. As it turned out, the failure of Rick Santorum to secure any significant amount of backing from Republican politicians after his Iowa surprise was a solid indication that he did not, in fact, have a reasonable chance to win the nomination; the “crickets” response after his big day in Colorado and Minnesota sealed the deal.

We need to pay attention to endorsements during the nomination battle because there’s a lot of campaigning (and not just within the aptly named invisible primary stage) that goes on away from the TV cameras. Endorsements by visible party leaders tell us who is winning support from the much larger groups of party actors who coordinate and compete over control of the nomination.

But in the general election, none of that applies. The general election is, probably more than any other process in U.S. politics, visible. There really aren’t very many hidden indicators or secret factors. Polling is (relatively) easy; voters are engaged fairly early, turnout is reasonably predictable, and the candidates rapidly become very well known — none of which is the case for presidential primaries or congressional elections. Both major party candidates have ample resources, so it’s not likely that winning the support of additional donors or volunteers will make that much of a difference.

Given all of that, the only difference an individual endorsement can make is if it really does affect votes. And that’s unlikely for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that there’s so much information available about both candidates that it’s highly unlikely that another small cue will make any difference.

So I’ll suggest that you ignore any endorsement talk for the presidential election as well as most of the day-to-day nonsense events dominating the news cycles and (until September) Electoral College calculations. Endorsement season? Over.


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