Do Celebrity Endorsements Help Win Elections?

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Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Kid Rock and Dwayne Johnson have all announced their support for either Biden or Trump in the upcoming 2020 US presidential election.

But does it actually do anything?

I want to find out what sort of impact celebrity endorsements have on US political campaigns – like, has it ever actually helped the outcome of an election?

Who’s Endorsing Who

But first, who’s endorsing who in the current White House race?

President Trump doesn’t seem to have as many celebrities (particularly young ones) endorsing him as Biden does.

Country rapper Kid Rock and actors Roseanne Barr and Stephen Baldwin have put their weight behind Trump. But mostly his supporters are the general public.

Joe Biden on the other hand, has a long list of A-list supporters.

Back in August, Cardi B went viral after she interviewed the Democratic candidate over a zoom call.

Conservatives were mad that a female rapper was given such a big platform, but heaps of people applauded the interview saying she’d pretty much outdone most mainstream political reporters.

Dwayne Johnson endorsed Biden, which was hugely significant because he is literally the most followed person on Instagram. And Taylor Swift has broken her controversial 2016 election silence by announcing her support of Biden as well.

Swift is among other vocal musicians like Billie Eilish and Lizzo who used their acceptance speeches at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards to urge the public to vote.

History Of Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrities have been a part of the election show more generally for years.

In the US, voting is voluntary which means there’s always been pressure to create publicity for a candidate’s campaign. And historically candidates have relied on celebrities to help them do that.

Historians have traced the role of celebrities in politics back to the 1920s, when Warren G. Harding became the first candidate to be endorsed by a celebrity in a presidential race.

Harding had the support of Lillian Russell who was an opera-turned-movie-star and he went on to become the 29th US president.

In 1960, The Rat Pack (made up of A-list showbiz friends like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) endorsed John F. Kennedy which was said to have had a huge influence at the time.

So, celebrity endorsements have happened for a while. But do they actually help win an election?

Well, it kind of comes down to two things: who the celebrities are and who the voters are.

Nives Zubcevic-Basic from Swinburne University wrote for The Conversation that, with the right celebrity endorsements, political campaigns can do really well.

She pointed out that celebrities are known to grab consumer attention and that people are more likely to think positively about a product if they are familiar with the celebrity endorsing it.

The same thing applies here, although we’re talking about politicians not products.

A study in 2013 found that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama in 2008 increased overall voter participation and resulted in an estimated 1 million additional votes for Obama.

And of course, he went on to win that election.

But it’s also been proven that some celebrity backing – like the kind that Hillary Clinton had – is not always so successful.

A different study in 2014 found that young adults are more likely to listen to family and friends over celebrities for political advice and information.

In the aftermath of Trump’s 2016 election, a huge number of his voters were found to have been hidden supporters who had already made up their minds, chosen not to be vocal about it, and definitely weren’t going to be swayed by a bunch of famous people.

Which might have been one of the reasons Hillary ultimately didn’t get elected.

Well, that and a weird American voting system.

Experts are now suggesting that first-time voters are more likely to be influenced by celebrities, which could explain why there’s already been a record breaking 22 million Americans who have voted in the 2020 election so far.

But this upcoming presidential election is already a totally unique one given what’s gone on this year, and every election is different, bringing with it a new type of voter.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, celebrity endorsements can work. We saw the power it had for Obama in 2008 and the type of reaction it is getting now for Biden.

But celebrity endorsement is really just one part of a successful presidential campaign, and whether it’s an indicator of who will win in 2020 still remains to be seen.