Monday, September 10, 2007

Oprah. Obama. Obama. Oprah.

(to echo a long-ago comment by David Letterman, Oprah's guest on her season premiere this morning)

There's a lot of speculation about how influential Oprah's backing of Obama will be, given the $3-plus million dollar fundraiser she held for him this weekend at her California compound, right before her TV season began. Impeccable timing for her. One poll even shows that 31 percent of people think people they know will be more likely to vote for Obama because of O's backing. I find the wording of the question interesting. The poll doesn't ask if respondents would themselves be more likely to vote for Obama. Instead, they're guessing whether their friends might. Ergo, not a meaningful measure, even though CBS is puffing its own poll. Rita Cosby asked me about this last year (when she was still on MSNBC) when Oprah and Larry King were chatting and Oprah said "He's my guy" about Obama. I said at the time that books and brownies were easier to recommend than political candidates. I still think that's true, mostly. Oprah has never really ventured into highly contentious realms with her recommendations. When she examines Iraq, for example, she will focus on soldiers' families, or interview experts. She does well by playing to people's sympathies, and in order to do so presents situations in a sympathetic light (women in Africa, education, children and predators). Politics is a different realm; many have opinions to begin with, and so she can't give them the edited situation she usually presents when she's trying to get people to care and move them to action. Obama said her backing might give him a hearing in certain quarters. That could translate into, say, 5 percent. And it would come from Hillary backers.

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