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First presidential polls on Oprah a mixed bag

January 13, 2018

Before what’s been described as a riveting Golden Globe Awards acceptance speech turned pre-presidential cycle foray, media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s name hadn’t yet showed up on any major political polls. If her name was mentioned as a potential White House contender, it was a passing “What If?” joke or conversation to pass the time.

Yet something in Winfrey’s remarks last Sunday evening during the annual gathering of television and movie elites moved the millions watching. Whether it was Winfrey’s tone, the subject matter in the speech or, simply, a fatigued electorate growing increasingly frustrated with the current occupant on Pennsylvania Avenue, those remarks have catapulted the “O” brand onto the political stage, stoking speculation of a potential run against Donald Trump in 2020 — were he not impeached before then.

Winfrey’s name is now on a steadily blooming list of 2020 contenders, all Democrat, who view themselves as saviors from Trump. The billionaire cable network owner, talk show host standard and iconic brand name did nothing during that first week after the Globes to stop the frenzied entertainment gossip and punditry over her speech. And the first sign that a Winfrey 2020 candidacy is within the realm of possibility showed up on a number of major political polls. Several polls out this week reveal a respectable Winfrey lead over Trump, including one poll typically associated with Republicans.

However, just because Winfrey’s name is now contrasted against Trump and other presidential wannabes doesn’t necessarily mean she would win.

A Philadelphia Tribune analysis of polling data last week on Winfrey’s chances shows somewhat positive, yet mixed reaction once the entire electorate is surveyed. Recent polls show Winfrey topping Trump in a match-up scenario, but not by that much. Of course, her name is among the most recognizable nationwide, but how she’s viewed in terms of her personality, her business empire and her political stands or affiliations is heavily dependent on which segment of the population you ask.

According to the Tribune’s aggregation of data, Winfrey would win an average 47 percent support among likely voters in a 2020 contest against an average 40 percent support for incumbent Trump. But, on average, nearly 13 percent of likely voters claim they are “undecided” or “unsure” of who they’d vote for in 2020, a rather substantial slice of the electorate that indicates Winfrey would have a very tough road ahead despite the high ID and national anti-Trump sentiment.

“Those numbers are terrible,” argues G.S. Potter, executive director of the Strategic Institute on Intersectional Policy. “The majority of strategists have not adjusted their polling measures to account for their inability to see a Trump victory through the projections of a Hillary Clinton win.”

“The fact that 40 percent of the country would still rather see Trump in office than Oprah this far out from the general election also tells us that despite the emotional outpouring from Golden Globes enthusiasts, white America would still prefer a Nazi steak salesman to a Black woman president.”

Republican-aligned Rasmussen Reports showed 48 percent of likely voters supporting a Winfrey bid versus 38 percent of voters for Trump in 2020, a full 10 percentage spread. But the 13 percent of “undecideds” prompted caution from Rasmussen pollsters, particularly the 19 percent of independent voters undecided.

That data point, along with Winfrey winning only 76 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of independents, offers a glimpse into an electorate that is unsure about the Black woman media mogul as presidential material, with numbers reflecting a hesitancy on the part of voters that was apparent during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Winfrey, as predicted, leads overwhelmingly with Black voters in all polls. However, despite leads with not only Black voters but with white and other demographic voters, as well, Winfrey is not as strong as expected in 2020. A slim majority of women surveyed by Rasmussen, 52 percent, would support Winfrey, suggesting the candidate would be hassled — like Clinton and 2017 Democratic candidates in key special congressional elections and statewide races — by a large share of white women voters.

Even with Winfrey’s spirited and outspoken #MeToo moment during the Golden Globes, her favorable numbers among women voters are mixed. In an NPR/Marist poll, only 41 percent of women overall said they wanted Winfrey to run in 2020 compared with 50 percent who do not. Overall, the NPR/Marist poll revealed, strikingly, that 54 percent of voters did not want Winfrey to run.

Generally speaking, white and Latino voters also show reluctance.

Clearer survey results based on race are available in the NPR/Marist poll. A substantial 63 percent of Black voters want Winfrey to run, yet just 28 percent of whites and 41 percent of Latinos want her in the 2020 mix.

When asked who they would support, a sizable 45 percent of whites would still support Trump along with 32 percent of Latinos (an interestingly higher number of Latinos for Trump than in 2016). A massive 87 percent of Black voters, however, would support Winfrey in 2020.

From women, Winfrey receives 59 percent of the vote in the NPR/Marist poll.

The race between Winfrey and Trump is much tighter, according to the Democratic Party-aligned Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that survey, Winfrey receives 44 percent to Trump’s 43 percent — a virtual dead heat, along with 13 percent undecided.

The PCCC poll reflects some trepidation, even from Democrats: While PCCC is known as a strong and longtime supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for a presidential run, PCCC’s Warren versus Trump scenario showed Warren maintaining a wider lead at 49 percent to 43 percent, with only 8 percent unsure.

Winfrey would have to first compete in the Democratic Party primaries before meeting Trump in a general. Her chances in the first phase would be daunting. When Democratic voters by themselves are polled, it becomes much more challenging for her: She ranks third in a four-person field at 20 percent, with former Vice President Joe Biden favored as the top Democratic primary pick at 26 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 21 percent.

Still, none of the most recent polls examined offer any insight on a question that’s been nagging observers since 2016: What do white women think about Winfrey? Asking that question not only offers a glimpse into Winfrey’s potential performance for 2020, but it provides critical data for Democrats continually confounded by the fact that white female voters lean Republican.

While there are no available demographic data by race and gender in this set of polls, the Tribune turned to the most recent Quinnipiac University survey for perspective on that question. That poll shows 39 percent of white women approving of Trump, compared with only 31 percent of women overall. Roughly 38 percent of white women also approve strongly or somewhat of the president’s job and 46 percent total give him a grade of A, B or C in his first year. But, more revealing is that 47 percent of white women feel optimistic about the next few years with Trump as president and an astounding 62 percent of white women believe he is a “strong” person.

This would prove problematic for Winfrey. But some seasoned observers also contend that while Winfrey is attractive as a public leader, her being offered as a potential candidate is more than likely political dopamine for the masses.

“This is exactly what I feared would happen once Trump put his hand on the Bible nearly a year ago, that every celebrity and billionaire would see it as a green light,” says Peter Groff, a former Obama administration appointee.

“As intriguing as a Winfrey campaign or presidency might seem at the moment, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and realize the presidency is a really hard job, with some specific requirements and specifications. At this moment, more than any other time, we need a serious person with the right political background and experience to bring the country together.”

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