A recent study found Cherie Berry, the N.C. Labor Commissioner, is more likely to be re-elected because her photo is required in every elevator statewide. The study, published online in September, is the work of Jacob Smith, a UNC Ph.D. student in political science, and his former classmate Neil Weinberg.
“I became interested in this topic from just basically riding in elevators all the time,” Smith said.
Smith attended Kenyon College in Ohio for his undergraduate degree, where he noticed significantly fewer elevators than at UNC — a much larger university.
Inspiration came when he was taking a statistics class with Weinberg. Using spatial regression, the two researched how Berry’s photo affected her performance in certain counties.
“This is related to Waldo Tobler’s first law of geography,” Smith said. “For example, things in Orange County are more likely to have effect in Durham County rather than Mecklenburg County.”
The study found Berry faired better in big cities in 2008 — her first re-election after the photos were placed in 2005 — rather than more rural areas with fewer elevators, Smith said.
“We found she overperforms her previous performance but does not overperform other Republicans in the state,” he said. “When you look at 2012, however, she overperforms her previous performance and the others’ performance.”
Dolores Quesenberry, spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Labor, said using Berry’s picture in 2005 wasn’t motivated by future elections.
“The next election was not a consideration,” she said. “The idea came from a senior aide to the commissioner who wanted to put a face on state government.”
Quesenberry said Berry has been pleasantly surprised by the public’s reaction to the photograph and the personal connection they are making with her.
The connection is evident among UNC students, though few know much else about the commissioner.
Tanner Brice, a UNC sophomore, said she recalls Berry just by her name.
“It’s a good way for her to be known, but I know nothing about her,” Brice said.
But UNC first-year Lydia Kuehnert said she needs more than a photo.
“I wouldn’t vote for someone just because I saw their picture,” she said. “It may help me identify with them more, but I would want to research other candidates more.”