The real incumbency advantage– elevators

If you are not from NC, you might be surprised to learn that our NC Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berrie, is the 4th best-known political office-holder in the state.  If you are from NC, you are well aware that she has been abusing her position for years by taking an increasingly prominent role in our elevators.  The results from the latest Elon Poll via the N&O:

More North Carolinians can identify the state’s “elevator queen” than the legislators setting the agenda on statewide issues.

According to an Elon University Poll, 49 percent of registered voters could match Cherie Berry – whose face is plastered in elevators across the state because of her role in regulating them – with her role as North Carolina commissioner of labor. But a majority of those respondents didn’t identify her by her official title. Rather, they said she was the “Elevator Lady” or the “Elevator Queen.” Voters in urban areas were more likely to recognize Berry than those in rural areas.

“I think it’s pretty good evidence that Cherie Berry’s elevator advertisements work,” said Jason Husser, an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and director of the poll. “If we had gone through other names of people with similar levels of authority at the state, we wouldn’t have seen that level of name recognition.”

When I first moved here back in 2002, I’m pretty sure it was just the signature.  But now it’s a photo, too, and I’m pretty sure it’s become more prominent.  And, yes, she keeps winning statewide even in years when most other Republicans lose.

A couple of political scientists have found, yes, there is a real incumbency advantage here and wrote up their results in the Monkey Cage a couple years ago:

2012 results. These results aren’t as ambiguous. Once again, Berry brought up her total of the vote in counties with a higher concentration of elevators. But this time, Berry performs better than other Republicans running for statewide offices in counties with a higher concentration of elevators per 1,000 people…

What should we take away from this study?

As political scientists have long thought, political advertisements can affect elections — even in the most unorthodox forms. With this kind of advertising, incumbents don’t have to spend campaign funds — but they still come out of the election at a higher floor than when they began.

If they do learn from Berry’s elevator pictures, they may realize that such advertising can help when they try to rise to higher political office. In a May 2013 poll, Berry performed strongest of all Republicans tested against then-Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) for the U.S. Senate seat Hagan was vacating in 2014. While Berry didn’t run for Senate, her picture in North Carolina elevators continue to bring up her political prospects as she seeks a fifth term as labor commissioner in 2016.

And, yes, of course she won in 2016.

And, yes, she’s a good Republican who has used her position to entirely fair the working people of this state.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to The real incumbency advantage– elevators

  1. Nicole K. says:

    Why do we need to see who is in charge of regulating the elevators anyway? Are most people at all concerned about that? I lived in Woodbridge VA for the last year and a half, and I had an elevator in my building that I used multiple times a day. I do not recall who was in charge of regulating elevators in Virginia. There wasn’t anyone’s face plastered in the elevator. There may have been a signature, but it wasn’t something that ever really caught my attention.

    Is there actually some reason that explains the justification for why we’re supposed to actually need to know who regulates the elevator we are riding in and what that person looks like? Otherwise it’s really kind of arrogant and presumptuous to use public money to advance your political career like that. But I guess if you can do it, that makes OK.

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