Endorsements tend to reinforce predispositions rather than change them. Nonetheless Colin Powell's is unusual, in that it both crosses the aisle and comes from a particularly well-liked quasi-political figure – one, as a bonus, who's steeped in the military experience Barack Obama lacks.
A few data points:
-In a Fox News poll in August, registered voters by nearly 2-1 said a Powell endorsement would make them more likely rather than less likely to vote for Obama – 35 percent more likely, 19 percent less so. (“No difference” was not offered as a choice; 43 percent volunteered it anyway.)
-Same poll, 76 percent reported an overall favorable opinion of Powell, 13 percent unfavorable.
-In an ABC/Post poll back in October 1995, 64 percent of Americans said Powell should run for president in 1996. In a head-to-head matchup Powell led Bill Clinton by 10 points, 52 to 42 percent, among registered voters. (Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, though, Powell was not the frontrunner in preference for their party's nomination; he ran second to Bob Dole.)
-Same October 1995 poll, 70 percent viewed Powell favorably. And 54 percent rated his leadership abilities as “outstanding” or “above average,” well above his contemporaries (Bush 41 got above-average leadership ratings from 39 percent, Bob Dole 26, Bill Clinton 25). Powell also bettered Ronald Reagan’s leadership rating (43 percent outstanding/above average).
Note, part of Powell’s popularity stems from the fact that he’s never waded as deeply into the political fray as those who battle it out to win and hold elective office. It’s when they engage at that level that public figures are at greatest risk of losing some of their appeal, or at least putting it on the line.
Regardless, beyond his popularity and Republican credentials, Powell's endorsement may resonate for another reason: In making it he criticized John McCain for negative campaigning – a concern that, as I reported here a week ago, the public clearly shares.