California’s gubernatorial recall process is picking up steam. There is a date for the election and an official list of 46 replacement candidates. All voters—even if they vote “no” on recalling Governor Newsom—can select a replacement. Twenty-four of the replacement candidates are Republicans, and many are high-profile politicians. Some Republican activists feel it would be useful to coalesce around one candidate, and the party recently set up a process that may lead to an endorsement. Could such an endorsement make a difference?
To win the endorsement, a candidate must receive at least 60% of a virtual vote by party delegates on August 7. This is a high bar. If granted, the party’s seal of approval would not only be a signal to voters; it would also open up party spending on that candidate’s behalf. How much might it matter?
A study conducted in the early days of California’s “top two” primary found that candidates with the Democratic Party endorsement trounced their opposition, winning an average of 86% of the votes for Democrats. However, as the study made clear, this finding is misleading. Parties want to win, so they tend to back winners. If the endorsed candidate has more experience, connections, money, and/or sheer political talent than the other(s), those things might drive the result rather than the endorsement itself. Parties would be “cheerleaders” rather than “kingmakers.”
To address this problem, the study looked at the impact of an endorsement for candidates with similar experience, connections, and money. It identified an endorsement effect of around 8% of the same-party vote—still substantial, but far smaller than a superficial look at the numbers suggested.
An 8 percentage point within-party effect would translate to 3 to 4 points among all candidates. While this impact may seem modest, a few points could make all the difference among two dozen Republican candidates. Thus, the vote on August 7 is potentially consequential. There is no guarantee the Republican Party will endorse anyone. But if it does, it could be a kingmaker.