This post was inspired by a current events group I attend weekly. The group is composed of what’s often called in political science papers as “high-information voters”. During one gathering, a question was put to the floor: “what shortcuts do you use to decide which candidates or propositions to vote for?” The overwhelming response: endorsements in the voter’s pamphlet. And that got me to thinking….

We read about the power of Big Money all the time, especially how corporations have corrupted the political process by buying access to policy makers. Big Money occasionally influences election outcomes as well, more by increasing turnout in close elections than by changing voters’ minds. But in determining who gets elected and what propositions get passed, endorsements matter more than Big Money. Specifically, key endorsements that voters rely on to guide their voting decisions. The basic thought process is : “If so-and-so supports this candidate or proposition, they must be okay” - or not okay, depending on one’s political inclinations. This is only natural: we all use mental shortcuts (aka heuristics) to figure out who and what to believe, especially when faced with a barrage of contradictory information.

Which brings me to a fascinating 2017 paper titled “Political Influence in California”. The authors created a dataset of candidate endorsement rankings based on information collected by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund. This nonpartisan organization had sent out questionnaires to candidates for all elected offices in California, from school board member to U.S. senator. The questionnaire asked each candidate to list their top three “key endorsements”. The authors were able to obtain endorsement rankings from 19,945 office seeker campaigns during the 2012 and 2014 election cycle, from which they developed a continuous measure of endorsement power. The authors assumed candidates deliberately choose to list their key endorsers based on desirability and that the ordering of endorsements implied a preference ordering.

The Key Endorsement “Power Rankings” are at the end of this post. But they’re a lot to take in (just like election pamphlets), so I’ve created a chart to help see endorsement patterns by party:

_2019  Key Endorsements by Candidate Party.png

Judging from the above chart alone, Democrat candidates appear more beholden to special interest groups than Republican candidates (whose most coveted endorsements were simply from Republican groups). It also looks like Democrats are particularly attuned to the political agendas of groups and Republicans to an approach to governing. At least in California. Now for the Power Rankings.

Democrat Power Ratings by Group 

  1. County Firefighters’ Association  

  2. County Democratic Party  

  3. California Democratic Council  

  4. Americans for Democratic Action  

  5. California State Firefighters’ Association  

  6. California Teachers Association  

  7. California Small Business Association  

  8. California Labor Federation  

  9. Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project  

  10. California Association of Highway Patrolmen  

  11. County Farm Bureau  

  12. California Faculty Association  

  13. CDF Firefighters  

  14. National Education Association  

  15. American Federation of Teachers  

  16. United Farmers Workers  

  17. California Federation of Teachers  

  18. County Federation of Labor  

  19. California School Employees Association  

  20. Progressive Democrats of America  

  21. Chamber of Commerce  

  22. United Auto Workers  

  23. SEIU Local  

  24. California Nurses Association  

  25. National Organization for Women  

  26. County Professional Firefighters’ Association  

  27. Crime Victims United  

  28. California Teamsters Public Affairs Council  

  29. California Police Chiefs Association (State/County)  

  30. California League of Conservation Voters  

  31. Labor Council (County/Regional)  

  32. Peace Officers Research Association of California  

  33. County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association  

  34. California Professional Firefighters  

  35. Police Protective League (Local)  

  36. Planned Parenthood Action Fund  

  37. Stonewall Democratic Club  

  38. County Green Party  

  39. Democracy for America  

  40. National Women’s Political Caucus  

  41. Mexican American Political Association  

  42. California Organization of Police and Sheriffs  

  43. Equality California  

  44. SEIU California  

  45. County Democratic Club  

  46. California Labor Council  

  47. American Nurses Association  

  48. Latino Legislative Caucus  

  49. County Young Democrats  

  50. California National Organization for Women  

  51. California State Sheriffs’ Association

Republican Power Ratings by Group 

  1. California Peace Officers’ Association  

  2. California Teachers Association  

  3. Log Cabin Republicans (County/Local)  

  4. County Republican Party  

  5. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association  

  6. California State Firefighters’ Association  

  7. Crime Victims United  

  8. County Farm Bureau  

  9. California Republican Assembly  

  10. California Small Business Association  

  11. County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association  

  12. Wish List  

  13. California Association of Highway Patrolmen  

  14. Republican National Hispanic Assembly  

  15. California Police Chiefs Association (State/County)  

  16. California League of Conservation Voters  

  17. Chamber of Commerce  

  18. California Professional Firefighters  

  19. California School Employees Association  

  20. Peace Officers Research Association of California  

  21. California Congress of Republicans  

  22. Family Action PAC  

  23. California Republican League  

  24. California ProLife Council  

  25. Log Cabin Republicans of California  

  26. California Young Republicans  

  27. Lincoln Club (Local)  

  28. National Tax Limitation Committee  

  29. California Organization of Police and Sheriffs  

  30. Liberty Caucus  

  31. County Republican Central Committee  

  32. Farm Bureau Federation  

  33. National Federation of Independent Businesses  

  34. National Women’s Political Caucus  

  35. National Rifle Association  

  36. California College Republicans


Atkinson, M. D, & DeWitt, D. (2017). Political Influence in California. California Journal of Politics and Policy, 9(3). (pdf)