You are perhaps a bit perplexed right now. After all, 45 plus 33 is only 78 percent — meaning that 22 percent of respondents didn’t have a preference. That’s a big gray area. But then there’s the important fact that this is speculating about a matchup between the Republican incumbent and a guy whose political views are unclear. If McConaughey is running as a Republican, bad news: the poll shows Abbott with a 26-point lead over the actor within his own party, making it unlikely that McConaughey could win the primary. If he instead ran as a Democrat, it’s not clear that he’d fare as well. A lot of the Democratic support of the actor is probably simply a function of his being positioned against a governor who has the approval of less than 30 percent of Democrats.
The Morning News knows what it’s doing here. McConaughey might run, in the way that celebrities sometimes do, and there may, down the line, be a McConaughey-Abbott matchup. Until then, though, there’s an audience for consideration of the question, an audience legitimized by the recent election of a businessman-slash-television-personality to the White House.
The value of polling on celebrity political goals is well-established. Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, made headlines recently when he embraced a survey showing that 46 percent of Americans wanted him to run for president. But his enthusiasm should be well-insulated with caveats. The survey was conducted by a marketing firm looking to gin up some PR. It didn’t ask if Johnson should be elected president or if voters preferred him to President Biden; instead, it asked if either Johnson or McConaughey should run for office, with 29 percent saying both should and another 17 percent saying that only Johnson should.
There is something of a gap between “should run for office” and “I would vote for,” as we probably don’t need to point out. Johnson might be cautious about pouring resources into a run based solely on what users of something called “Piplsay” thought about his tossing his hat into the ring.
What’s interesting about these polls, though, is how they compare with polling in the New York mayor’s race.
There, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang leads a crowded field. The city recently adopted ranked-choice voting, meaning that voters get to prioritize the candidates they would like to see take control of city hall from most to least. Maybe it’s comptroller Scott Stringer first and then Yang and then activist Maya Wiley. Counting the votes goes in rounds. If Stringer were to come in last in the first round of voting, that particular ballot would go to Yang in the second round. The process continues until there’s a winner.
In a poll conducted by Ipsos for the local channel NY1, the ranked-choice process applied to expressed voter preferences yields … Mayor Andrew Yang.
The city is, in fact, quite blue; it votes overwhelmingly Democratic, with the regular exception of the borough of Staten Island. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s heavily liberal, though it often is. New York, like many places, has that population of engaged political actors who donate to causes (including Republican ones; Manhattan is a significant source of Republican fundraising) and who press on policy issues. Then there are a lot of people who go out and vote Democratic but otherwise do their own thing.
So how did Yang land in first place? At the New Republic, Alex Pareene frames it correctly, I think.
“[T]he real reason Yang has had such runaway success in the mayoral primary is the same reason why he gets profiles in the Times and The Atlantic to begin with: He is a celebrity, and the people he is running against are not. Political consultants would say that he has ‘name recognition,’ but it’s more than recognition: He is a television character that people have not only heard of but actually like.”
Yang is to the world of politics what McConaughey is to Hollywood: someone a lot of people have heard of and that a lot of people view positively. He is sort of a celebrity in the national, traditional sense of “celebrity,” but he is very much a “celebrity” in the context of “people running for mayor of New York.” You, a reader who is probably not living in New York, have likely not heard of Wiley or Stringer. I bet that you’ve heard of Yang.
The emergence of Yang has seemingly flummoxed New York’s still-grinding political system. Normally, one would expect Stringer to be the candidate to beat. He, like current Mayor Bill de Blasio, worked through the system to build a political base and sufficient power. But then Yang drops in and here we are.
The important difference between Yang and a McConaughey isn’t just that both are well-known. It’s that Yang is well-known within the context of politics. Again, Pareene:
“Become a celebrity by running for president, and you immediately legitimize yourself. Millions of people have already seen him standing on a debate stage — as an equal — with a crowd of senators and the current president. Yang looks like a serious politician because he played one on TV.”
That’s not terribly generous, though it is certainly questionable whether Yang would be prepared for what is by all accounts a grinding and not-very-rewarding gig. It’s not much more clear why Yang wants to be mayor than it is why McConaughey wants to assume responsibility for, say, deploying state resources to battle a drought in Culberson County.
What is clear, though, is that Yang is a lot closer to his desired gig than is the millionaire celebrity actor.