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Why Politicians Should Scrap Celebrity Endorsements

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Andrew Oliver
  Staff Writer

Despite the fact that the majority of celebrities in the entertainment industry have no political experience, when election time comes around the story seems to change. It is always sold to the audience as if they have been deeply involved in the American political system their whole lives with certain type of  self-created authority that entitles them to be heard.

From Tom Hanks to Samuel L. Jackson, Paula Abdul, and everyone in between, the airwaves have been littered with celebrity endorsements throughout the course of this presidential election. These notable faces were saying who to vote for and why, but does this matter to the American people?

David Jackson, a professor of political science at Bowling Green State University, says that, most of the time, it doesn’t. In a large experiment, Jackson sampled voters and surveyed them, asking if a particular celebrity’s endorsement would make them more or less likely to vote for a certain candidate.

While many of the voters surveyed said that an endorsement would make them less likely to vote for the candidate supported by a particular celebrity, almost none of them said that a celebrity’s endorsement would make them more likely to support any candidate. There are exceptions, however.

“For instance, country star Trace Adkins, who won Donald Trump’s All-Star Celebrity Apprentice and supported Mitt Romney and John McCain, is a net drag on a presidential candidate of 8.5 percentage points among all likely voters. However, among those who say country music is their favorite, this flips to a net positive of 7.3 points,” said Jackson of his study.

In a way, the whole endorsement process really does make sense, but the real hand celebrities had in this election makes one hopeful. The American people, overall, do not trust a celebrity, inexperienced in politics or political issues, with swaying their votes or telling them who to vote for.

However, if the celebrity is a person whose character and values closely resonate with the voter in question, they are more likely to be receptive to what said celebrity is trying to say on the matter.

This is a good thing. Most celebrities are clearly not able to fully empathize with the majority of American citizens, who are facing increasingly hard times. Americans seem to understand the socio-economic distance these individuals have in comparison to them to large degree.

For instance, there is no way (as good as her intentions might be) that Madonna can understand the plight and the increasingly complex situations faced by American farmers and the nation’s agricultural industry. The farming sector was thusly unlikely to be swayed by her endorsement in the election if they do not agree with the singer.

Politicians also need to be careful with who they invite to endorse them, as there can be great risks involved. Controversial rock musician Ted Nugent endorsed Donald Trump in May 2016. That cause a drag on Trump’s overall favorability to the tune of 13.4 percent, according to Jackson’s studies. This seemed to do more harm than good for Trump in the long run, but did not affect his ultimate upset win this week.

Even Oprah Winfrey, a seemingly non-controversial figure, proved to be a drain Hillary Clinton upon making her endorsement: 5.2 percent among the overall electorate in polling leading up to the final election.

It is a game of give-and-take if you will. While Oprah’s endorsement was a net drain on Clinton’s favorability overall, it increased her favorability with African American voters by over 20 percent. Those voters were one of her largest populations in the final polls, but still were not energized enough to turn America blue

If a candidate is trying to go after a certain voting bloc, it does make sense to obtain celebrity endorsements that make one more favorable in the eyes of that particular demographic, but with net favorability still negative overall, is it worth it?

As long as both candidates in any given election are vying for these endorsements, yes. When it comes to celebrities getting behind their favorite nominees and broadcasting their opinions – for which they are handsomely compensated – there will almost certainly be more of a negative response than a positive one from the voters in general.

Maybe this is why candidates look for such an endorsement. For example, Hillary Clinton found the support of pop star Katy Perry in the election as the artist performed on many occasions and at various fundraising events, including the Democratic National Convention.

Katy Perry even allowed for her single “Rise” to be used as a centerpiece in Clinton’s attempt to capture younger voter’s interest. Regardless, the race was tight in the week leading up to November 8, and eventually resulting in the surprising loss of Clinton. It seems Katy Perry’s work did not have the power Clinton hoped.

It seems then as long as one candidate does not get more negative responses in relation to favorability ratings than the other candidate, they are relatively safe in grabbing up celebrity votes. Clearly, these endorsements only serve to further complicate the presidential races and earn a few more dollars during the campaign.

However, the American voting public is overall smarter and more wary than politicians give them credit. In such trying times, it only makes sense that people’s votes are more guarded and precious than ever. The result of the election reflected a body of working-class voters who were tired of the elitist nature of politicians, which was only furthered by celebrity inclusion in the election.  

In light of these studies, it would serve politicians and political candidates for office quite well if they kept celebrity endorsements to a minimum, or if they avoided seeking them at all. For the sake of long-term success, candidates should let their policies and issues speak louder than an internet ad featuring Mike Tyson.

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