The Intersection of Pop Culture and Politics4 min read
Autumn is here and so is the election season in the United States.
Only 19 days remain until the November 3rd Presidential Election and to say that there is a bit of tension in the air is an understatement.
During the months leading up to an election, candidates hit the road to campaign across the country. Those running for prestigious positions of power like the President of the United States, tend to call upon voices, both big and small, to increase their campaign popularity.
Endorsements do not only come from politicians and organizations but well-known celebrities as well. Presidential candidates like Joe Biden often collaborate with celebrities with large platforms who share similar political and societal beliefs to spread awareness among their fanbase and to encourage the public to vote.
In our society fixated on celebrity status, the intersection of politics and pop culture is ever-growing but whether this interlacing is effective in helping a political campaign gain popularity and votes is unclear.
The impact of celebrity endorsements
As the November general election nears, Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to stack up large numbers of celebrity endorsements. Stars such as Cardi B, George Clooney, Taylor Swift, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Madonna have publicly expressed their support for Biden’s campaign. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the most-followed American man on Instagram and an independent voter, made an endorsement for the first time in his life. Johnson appears in a video, stating that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are “the best choice to lead our country”.
Similarly, global superstar, Ariana Grande encouraged her 280 million followers on Instagram and Twitter to register to vote in her home state of Florida before the deadline in October. Grande’s efforts paid off, as Florida’s online registration website crashed later that day due to an extreme amount of traffic. Florida’s Secretary of state Laurel Lee extended the registration deadline by a day to account for the large requests and interest to vote.
While celebrities endorse liberal politicians and policies, Republicans celebrities have been the ones to run for office. Cooper Lawrence, journalist and author of Celebritocracy: the Misguided Agenda of Celebrity Politics in a Postmodern Democracy, utilizes the examples of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Donald Trump, and President Ronald Reagan to support this claim. Regarding the 2020 Presidential election, Lawrence shares, “Trump certainly has his celebrities, quote-unquote. But in terms of who real celebrities are, that people know well and like, Joe Biden is definitely winning in that way.”
Celebrities in marketing
Companies across the globe frequently seek out celebrity endorsements to boost the reputation of their brand or products. This marketing strategy aims to convey qualities like amiability, attractiveness, and dependability so that consumers are more likely to buy a company’s goods and services. This method can produce positive results for a brand, as consumers tend to watch or admire the activities of their favorite celebrities.
In the field of public relations, celebrity endorsements are a powerful way to create excitement and interest within a consumer audience. COYNE PR argues that celebrity endorsements assist in fulfilling traditional PR objectives including,
- Generating appeal within a target audience
- Achieving maximum brand exposure
- Differentiating a brand from the competition
- Establishing a meaningful connection with consumers
- Convincing consumers to believe that the brand is credible
How effective are celebrity endorsements?
Economists Craig Garthwaite and Timothy Moore at the University of Maryland have discovered that celebrity endorsements can be extremely valuable to a political campaign’s success. In studying the impact of Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary, Garthwaite and Moore found that Winfrey’s endorsement translated resulted in roughly 1,000,000 additional votes for President Obama. During the primary, Obama received only 41,622 more votes than Clinton in the popular vote. This close call suggests that Winfrey’s endorsement may have given Obama the extra votes he needed to win the primary.
The Journal of Political Marketing has found that celebrity endorsements can help or hurt a politician’s cause. The outcome depends on the people’s perception of the celebrity. Historically, Hollywood has leaned to the left along with its various fanbases. Surveys illustrate that voters who show interest in celebrity opinions and endorsements tend to be democrats and vote for democrats. The Pew Research Center reports that Millennials and Generation Z, large consumers of media, are less likely to vote republican or support the Trump presidency.
In agreement, author David J. Jackson argues that celebrity endorsements do affect voters. In March 2016, Jackson studied 810 registered Ohio voters likely to vote in the 2016 Presidential election. Data revealed that voters who read about a celebrity’s endorsement were more likely to agree with that celebrity’s stance. This result was also dependent on whether or not the voter held a favorable view of the celebrity.
On the other hand, research has shown that young adults tend to listen to others in their community rather than celebrities concerning political information. Valerie R. O’Regan, an associate professor of Political Science at California State University, determined that young people believe that celebrities affect the way people think, however not much politically. A 2019 survey conducted by Hill-HarrisX, reveals that 65% of those who partook in the survey feel that political endorsements from Hollywood celebrities have no impact on their voting decisions.
Is there a correlation between young people’s entertainment preferences and their political beliefs?
Research reveals that celebrity endorsements are impactful, but only under certain conditions. Evidence presented thus far suggests that celebrity endorsements are effective if a celebrity has a large amount of clout and is perceived positively by their audience.
While there is a lot to learn about the implications of celebrity political endorsements, it is clear that these endorsements are successful in getting fans to voice their opinions at the polls. However, what remains unclear is who fans will be voting for once they arrive at the ballot box.