IN WHICH I TAKE A SILLY STORY WAY TOO SERIOUSLY
A sensible person would probably ignore this Politico story by a Fordham poli sci professor named Costas Panagopoulos, but it's getting more attention than it deserves, so I'm going to point out that its conclusions are way too neat, and that all the pieces simply don't fit:
Obama supporter Oprah takes a big dive
Much hay was made nearly a year ago when Oprah Winfrey announced that she would support -- and campaign for -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
... what has received far less attention is the impact Oprah's endorsement has had on her own popularity....
Oprah's favorability ratings also remained consistently -- and unusually -- high. In November 2003, Gallup found that 73 percent of Americans held favorable views about Oprah. Seventy-four percent of Americans reported favorable impressions of Oprah in a January 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Oprah announced on CNN's "Larry King Live" on May 1, 2007, that she would officially endorse her longtime friend Barack Obama for the presidency.....
Almost instantly, Oprah's popularity in America plummeted....
Some of the evidence Panagopoulos presents does suggest that there's been a real decline in Oprah's popularity and that the endorsement is part of the reason -- although the only direct comparison (i.e., pre- and post-endorsement numbers from the same polling outfit, in this case Gallup) shows something less than a "plummet," a drop from a stratospheric 74% approval rating in January '07 to a still extremely high 66% in October.
Then Panagopoulos tells us this:
The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.
That's true -- and a December '07 Harris poll also lists Ellen as America's favorite TV performer, a title held for the last five years by Oprah.
But let's look at that '07 Harris poll. In that poll, Oprah "plummets" from #1 to #2 -- among all TV performers in America. So she's still doing extremely well. But Ellen does beat her. And how does she do that?
Men, for example, cite Jay Leno as their favorite television star while women say it's Ellen DeGeneres. Even among women there is a difference of opinion as single women say Ellen is their favorite while married women pick Oprah.
...Oprah Winfrey is tops among Baby Boomers (those aged 43-61) and she's tied with Bill O'Reilly for the top spot among Matures (those aged 62 and older).
... Liberals cite Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart as their favorite while Oprah Winfrey is number one among Moderates.
Somehow this is not fitting Panagopoulos's template. Oprah's popularity seems to be enduring among older moderate married women. The people who are sticking with Oprah sound like Hillary Clinton's base, not Barack Obama's. And Ellen is doing better among young single liberal women. Doesn't that seem like a cohort that would approve of an Obama endorsement?
One more bit of information: In the previous Harris poll, in December '06, Oprah was the #1 TV performer in America and #1 among Baby Boomers -- but she was #2 (behind Bill O'Reilly) among "Matures." Now she's #1 among "Matures," even though she's dropped overall.
Let me throw out a wild, wacky theory: Maybe her audience is just getting older?
Maybe Oprah's the established, stodgy brand in this category and Ellen (who leaped on the Harris chart from #8 to #1) is the brand that's seen as young and hot? Maybe Oprah is seen as more serious-minded and earnest, with her causes and book groups, while Ellen is simply seen as more fun?
And, given the fact that Oprah's base still looks a lot more like Clinton's than like Obama's, maybe TV viewers are paying little or no attention to politics when they make these judgments?