Authors Jacob Smith and Neil Weinberg recently published an article in which they considered the question of whether non-campaign advertising can help candidates win elections. They examined the case of Cherie Berry, the North Carolina Commissioner of Labor. Berry also supervises the Department of Elevators and Amusement Devices. After the 2004 election, she decided to have her name and picture appear on an inspection placard in every elevator in the state of North Carolina. Smith and Weinberg argue that the placards in elevators helped Berry win elections.
The authors believe that Berry’s picture is a form of non-campaign-specific political advertising that can affect voters’ opinions of her. They say the picture and name increase voters’ favorable name recognition through the process of priming, in which voters think about a specific aspect of an object.
Smith and Weinberg theorized that Berry would do better in an election in areas with a higher concentration of elevators. They found she did better in 2008 (three years after the placards were installed) than she did in 2004 in counties with more elevators. They did not find a relationship between her performance and that of other Republicans in 2008.
In the 2012 election, Berry performed better in counties with a higher concentration of elevators than she did in those counties in prior elections. She also did better than other Republicans in those counties. A higher concentration of elevators correlated with a higher percentage of votes for Berry. The authors also found that in a hypothetical scenario in which there were more elevators in one county, Berry would be expected to perform better in that county and neighboring counties.
Smith and Weinberg believe that elected officials can gain votes through non-campaign-specific advertising. In a close election, having one’s picture in elevators could be enough to win.
Berry has become a niche celebrity. Several songs have been written about her, and a parody Twitter account called @ElevatorQueen has been set up. She ran a campaign commercial in 2012 in which she spoke from her elevator picture.
Berry decided not to run for the North Carolina Senate in 2014. However, her poll numbers were better than those of other prospective Republican candidates in a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in April 2013.
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