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A surprise: Oprah pays a real cost for supporting Barack Obama

April 9, 2008 |  8:52 am

(UPDATE: This Ticket item has aroused so much interest, traffic and hundreds of comments that a new one has been published this morning. After you've read this item and are ready to go to the new one, just click here to read the reactions of hundreds of Oprah fans and former fans. Thanks for reading.)

Most of the attention on the O2 effect -- Obama and Oprah -- has been focused on how much the daytime TV cult leader helped her home state senator by endorsing him and appearing at all those rallies in Iowa and South Carolina with Barack and Michelle.Daytime TV diva Oprah Winfrey's support of Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle turns out to have cost her perhaps more than she helped him

The 54-year-old Chicago TV hostess certainly helped raise a hefty chunk of change by loaning out her estate for that Obama fundraiser last summer.

Oprah Winfrey has long enjoyed an immense popularity tied to her long-running daytime TV show, which started in 1986, and helped give her favorable ratings around 78% by 1996. So well known is she that one name will suffice, as in our headline.

In one 1999 survey of the most admired and respected 20th-century women, Oprah (26%) came in only second to Mother Teresa (33%), who didn't have her own TV show. And in 2003 a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found that 60% thought Oprah was a more powerful woman than someone named Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and senator, who drew only 28%.

Fourteen months ago, a Gallup/USA Today poll found 74% of Americans had a favorable view of the TV personality.

Then on May 1 last year, Oprah announced during....

the Larry King show that she was, for the first time, going to throw her considerable weight behind a political candidate -- Obama.  King's suspenders nearly snapped.

“I think," she told old Lar, "that my value to him, my support of him, is probably worth more than any check.” Although, to be honest, her estimated $2.5 billion in wealth could buy an awful lot of TV ads in Indiana. It might even be able to purchase the Hoosier State. 

But little attention has been paid to the effect of Obama on Oprah. Now along comes Costas Panagopoulos, an assistant professor of political science at New York's Fordham University, to ask and answer just that question.

Writing at Politico.com, he suggests the aging empress of TV has paid a price for getting into the dirty business of politics with and for her man Barack. By August last year, a CBS poll found her favorabMother Teresa who beat out TV talk-show hostess and billionaire Oprah Winfrey as most admired woman of the 20th centuryle rating had plunged from 74% to 61%, still twice as good as the president but nearly a 20% drop.

Around Thanksgiving she announced that not only was she supporting Obama, but she would campaign with him and we'd see if her political recommendation carried as much weight as her book recommendations. Oprah's political travels produced a media feeding frenzy and a publicity bonanza with women routinely fainting in the front row. The campaign said her rallies produced 10,000 new volunteers.

Winfrey campaigned for Obama in Iowa, which he won, in South Carolina, where he won, and in New Hampshire, where he lost. We haven't heard much about Winfrey since the voting started. Did she realize something we're just getting?  We heard only that she left the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ several years ago, reportedly over some of his more militant sermons that Obama says he never heard.

But 10 days after the campaign media explosion her favorable rating had dropped further to 55% and her unfavorable ratings for the first time climbed to 1 in 3.

A December ABC/Washington Post poll of Democrats found 8% were persuaded by her Obama endorsement, 82% said it wouldn't matter either way and 10% said her recommendation had turned them off Obama.

Now, Panagopoulos has discovered an AOL TV popularity survey of 1.35 million Americans that found 46% said the daytime TV host who "made their day" was Ellen DeGeneres while only 19% chose Winfrey. Forty-seven percent said they'd like to have dinner with Ellen, while only 14% chose Oprah.

Apparently, neither Ellen nor Oprah were asked who they'd like to dine with.

Panagopoulos draws the conclusion that in these days of pervasive media, in reality, celebrity endorsements run the real risk of costing the celebrity more than they benefit the endorsee. So celebs may want to think twice before hitting the stump.

But then how many hundred million dollars a year does an assistant professor at Fordham pull down?

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Newsday, Archdiocese of Colombo

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