The acrimony surrounding health care reform, stoked up to white hotness as the 2010 midterm elections draw nigh, seems to have claimed another victim, albeit an odd one: Andy Griffith, the long-living television and film star.
According to the Charlotte Observer:
“Andy Griffith – star of the Andy Griffith Show, a Manteo resident and noted endorser of Democratic causes and candidates – has seen his approval ratings plummet, according to a poll published Tuesday by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling.
“The Democratic pollster found that Griffith’s approval rating has fallen 25 points since 2008. Griffith has been a closer for Democrats, an unimpeachable saintly figure who fills his rare political spots with folksy charm and obvious references to his role as a small-town North Carolina sheriff.”
Andy Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor in a long-running series that aired in the 1960s set in a fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry. Mayberry was filled with colorful characters and seemed unique for Southern communities at the time for having escaped the racial upheavals of the time. The show also starred a child actor named Ron Howard, who grew up to be a famous film director.
Griffith also played a defense attorney named Ben Matlock in a series in the late 1980s and early 1990s who defended murder suspects by finding the real killer.
Andy Griffith had cut a controversial commercial touting the alleged benefits of health care reform for seniors. This commercial ran against a backdrop of massive cutbacks to Medicare, made necessary by the desire of the Obama administration to find revenue to fund health care reform.
Griffith had also appeared in a bizarre Ron Howard video, in which Howard’s costar from “Happy Days,” Henry Winkler, Howard, and Griffith appeared in their “Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days” personas to tout the candidacy of Barack Obama.
Andy Griffith’s popularity problems illustrate the dangers celebrities face when they make controversial political stands. TV and film actors depend on popularity with their audiences, built up over time by the roles that they play. A lot of baby boomers grew up watching Griffith play the affable, though sometimes long-suffering Sheriff of Mayberry and single dad. Griffith’s other signature character, the crusading lawyer Ben Matlock, was also much-admired.
So it is jarring to many when a celebrity who they have long admired takes public but controversial political stands. Health care reform is very unpopular, especially among seniors, and by supporting it, Griffith has placed himself on the opposite side from many of his fans. Hence, the nose dive in his popularity.
The joke now being touted is that it is lucky that Andy Taylor is not up for reelection as Sheriff, because he would likely lose.
Sources: Andy Griffith, IMDB
It’s lucky that Sheriff Andy isn’t facing voters, Benjamin Niolet, Charlotte Observer, September 8th, 2010