Do political endorsements actually matter?
Governor Ricketts and his predecessor endorsed Mike Flood for Congress on Friday. But do political endorsements impact voter behavior? A UNL professor weighs in.
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – On Friday, Governor Pete Ricketts and former Governor Dave Heineman announced they will be supporting state senator Mike Flood, and not the incumbent Jeff Fortenberry, to represent Nebraska’s first congressional district in the House of Representatives.
But do these endorsements actually impact voter behavior? UNL political science chair Dr. Kevin Smith says that in most elections, they probably do not.
“From sort of like a political science research standpoint, the effectiveness of these endorsements and shifting a ton of votes, there’s not a lot of evidence for this,” Smith said.
Smith says that endorsements may have a small impact on elections, but not quite enough to be a deciding factor, unless it’s a close race.
So what’s the point?
“It’s not a single endorsement that I think is going to make any significant difference to voting behavior,” Smith explained. “But if you have a series of people and organizations lining up behind a candidate, that builds its own momentum. That can make a candidate appear competitive, and a real legitimate contender.”
“In politics, perception is reality.”
Jeff Fortenberry has represented NE-01 since 2005.
The last time a Democrat held the first district seat was Clair Callan back in 1967.
Heineman made it clear on Friday that his endorsement of Flood was a reflection of his concern that Fortenberry could lose re-election in 2022.
“In modern political times in Nebraska, Jeff Fortenberry is the only Nebraska congressman that has ever been indicted on felony criminal charges. His actions have resulted in a dilemma for Nebraska’s first district voters. We respect and appreciate his service. But we don’t want to risk of losing the seat to a Democrat. Therefore, I’m supporting and endorsing Mike Flood for Congress,” Heineman said.
In response to Ricketts’ and Heineman’s endorsement of Flood, Fortenberry released this statement:
“Today’s announcement is particularly disappointing because I have counted these people as friends and you hope you can rely on your friends to stand by you when you face adversity like a false and unjust accusation. However, I’ve been very happy to receive endorsements for my re-election from business, community and political leaders across the First District. The voters will pass their own judgement on the character of the candidates in this race and I will spend this year talking with them about the accomplishments, leadership and conservative values that make me the best person to earn their vote and represent them in Congress.”
“It’s kind of big news that the governor and his immediate predecessor have come out and endorsed a primary challenger to an incumbent congressman,” Smith said. “But given the challenges that the incumbent congressman is facing, I don’t think it’s super shocking.”
In October, Fortenberry was accused of lying to the FBI about contributions made to his 2016 campaign.
Earlier this month, a federal judge rejected Fortenberry’s motion have those charges dismissed.
Fortenberry’s trial is scheduled for February 15, though that could be delayed.
The Republican primary is set for May 10, 2022.