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Oprah Winfrey’s Impact on Barack Obama’s 2008 election.

by on April 4, 2014

Image(Jason Reed, Reuters, New York Times)

Oprah Winfrey gave legitimacy to the Obama campaign in terms of her persona as social icon and marketing power. Oprah Winfrey’s first political endorsement was Senator Barack Obama for the 2008 Presidential Election in early 2007, which made an instant impact on the campaign. She raised $3 million from her first charity event as her first major contribution. (Bosman, 2007).

In a Larry King interview, Oprah said “my money isn’t going to make any difference to him, I think that my value to him, my support of him, is probably worth more than any check” (Zeleny, 2007). This worth was tested when she spoke at rallies attracting large crowds and addressed critics of Obama in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Los Angeles.

The ‘Oprah Effect’ was debated by political pundits as soon as her support for Obama was stated, “Obama was seen as another test of her marketing skills” (Sean R.Ridley) to add to her impressive track record. “Ms. Winfrey is more than a celebrity: She’s a social icon, an earth mother, a television priestess of sorts whose predominantly female flock takes her words to heart…she’s one of the great marketing machines in history” (Marks and Smith, 2007). It would be a huge understatement say that Oprah had the same value as other celebrity endorsers. Oprah is “the only person to be on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world six times” (Sawyer, 2009). Oprah’s “ability to promote a book is 20 to 100 times more than any other media figure.” Business Week (2005) Internet searches rose to more than 350% impressively when Barack Obama was an unknown Senator from her home state, first made an appearance on her show. (McGevna, 2010).
A study of ‘the Oprah Effect’ measured “geographic differences in subscriptions to O! The Oprah Magazine and the sale of books Winfrey recommended as part of Oprah’s Book Club to assess whether her endorsement affected the Primary outcomes.”
The study found her endorsement having a positive effect on the votes Obama received, the overall voter participation rate rose and raised the amount of contributions donated to Obama. Approximately 1 million more votes for Obama were received due to the Oprah effect. Oprah’s marketing power and social icon status combined meant her endorsement was a significant game changer in Obama’s campaign, as her persona has clout which gave the campaign legitimacy immediatley.

1: The importance of celebrities in political decision making: a rhetorical analysis of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, by Sean R. Ridley, Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, May 2010., Last accessed 04/04/2014

2: Do Political Endorsements Matter?, The Oprah Factor and Campaign 2008, by Andrew Kohut and Kim Parker, Pew Research Center, September 2007, 1615 L Street, N.W., Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20036, Last accessed 04/04/2014

3: Photo, Oprah Winfrey Hits Campaign Trail for Obama, By Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, December 9, 2007, Last accessed 04/04/2014

4: Oprah & Michelle Introduce Barack Obama (Full Oprah Speech), YouTube, 8 Dec 2007, Last accessed 04/04/2014

5: Oprah endorses Barack on Larry King, YouTube, New York Times, 3 May 2007, Last accessed 04/04/2014


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One Comment
  1. This is an interesting short case study of the political influence of celebrities. However, there are two things you should take on board if considering including this entry in your portfolio:

    – What is the point of the post? Please make more effort to tie it to one of the themes of the module.

    – What is the international relevance? This is a module about public diplomacy and global communication. Does this domestic case shine a light on international developments?

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