Feature

Name recognition is apparently everything in politics

Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are beating their lesser-known competitors, sex scandals be damned

A new Quinnipiac poll confirms that it is better to be hated, or at least infamous, than to be ignored, as disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) and former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) are officially leading their respective races.

Spitzer, running for New York City comptroller, is beating Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer by a healthy margin of 48-33. That is incredible for someone who jumped into the race barely more than a week ago.

Why aren't people punishing Spitzer at the polls for his involvement in a 2008 prostitution scandal? Probably because they barely know who Stringer, or any of the other candidates, are. In fact, it would be surprising if a majority of New Yorkers even knew what the comptroller does. Spitzer has, at least for the media, spiced up what is normally a very unsexy race.

Weiner's race is different. The mayor of New York City often becomes a celebrity and potential presidential candidate, while wielding power over more people than the governor of Massachusetts.

Polls show Weiner with a three-point lead over New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a popular Bloomberg protégé who is no stranger to press attention herself.

Weiner has better name recognition that Quinn. Before he was caught tweeting lewd pictures of himself, he was a regular on national television, including repeated appearances on The Daily Show. After the scandal, he was a regular punchline in late-night monologues and on the front page of the New York Post. He never left the news cycle.

In politics, that apparently matters more than remaining scandal-free, note The Atlantic Wire's Connor Simpson and Philip Bump:

Other than those two, polled citizens were practically indifferent to every other choice. When pollsters were asked to pass a favorable or unfavorable opinion about the candidates, Weiner and Spitzer are the only two whose "haven't heard enough" scores came in under 20 percent. No one knows who the other guys are. [The Atlantic Wire]

Of course, the idea that name recognition matters isn't new. We have had two presidents with the last name Bush and Hillary Clinton is polling ahead of her potential competition for the presidency in 2016. But it's so much more pronounced in the New York City mayor and comptroller races because of the relative obscurity of Weiner's and Spitzer's competition.

Yes, Bush's famous name helped him win in 2000, but at least people knew who Al Gore was. Few people, even New Yorkers, could probably name any facts about Weiner's and Quinn's closest competitor, former New York City Comptroller William Thompson.

The conventional wisdom used to be that a sex scandal would ruin your political ambitions. That no longer seems to be true.

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