Written By Denise Minichini
Celebrities have always been involved in the US election campaigns, dating back to 1920, when Warren G. Harding and James Cox were running up for presidency. Al Jolson, one of the most charismatic and influential personalities in America at the time, with 70 fellow actors rode the train from Chicago to Ohio, where Harding lived. With the help of a marching band, they paraded down the road singing and chanting, arriving at Harding’s House. Jolson put on a huge show, even climbing onto the porch while singing “Harding You’re The Man For Us”.
Harding ended up winning the election with a staggering 60.3 percent of the votes.This episode went down in history as the first celebrity endorsement in the US elections.
Almost a century later, celebrities are still hugely involved in the presidential campaigns, openly giving their support to the candidates.
However, the big question is, do celebrity endorsements actually matter? Scholars and experts often argue that celebrity endorsements do not make a difference in persuading voters one way or the other.
“Hollywood endorsements don’t move any votes,” firmly states Jack Pitney, professor of government at California’s Claremont McKenna College, in an interview at TheWrap. “No one is going to vote for Donald Trump because Gary Busey endorsed him.”
However, other studies prove that people can actually be influenced in their vote by a celebrity opinion. In 2008, before the Democratic Presidential Primary, Barack Obama was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, an extremely influential figure, and this resulted in 1 million additional votes for Obama.
At this point an important factor emerges, the credibility and trustworthiness of the celebrity is fundamental in the effect it would produce on the voters.Celebrities with previous political activism, like George Clooney and Martin Sheen, are more likely to have a stronger influence.
“There are certain celebrities that have gravitas when it comes to their opinion,” David Schneiderman, co-owner of Seismic Productions, said in an interview. “It really depends on the celebrity. It can’t just be someone with a pretty face.”
Moreover, celebrities that have a large number of followers and are “mainstream” among young people, could affect first time voters. Kim Kardashian’s opinion could indeed influence teenagers and other people who are not politically savvy.
A lot of other celebrities are supporting the candidates with twitter endorsements, videos and pictures. Some of them are up for powerful and impactful statements, like Robert De Niro in the commercial video that was originally meant to encourage people to vote. He endorsed Clinton by expressing opposition and disgust with Trump’s character: “He’s so blatantly stupid, he’s a punk, he’s a dog, he’s a big, he’s a con, a bullshit artist, a mutt that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” The actor goes on saying that he’d like to punch Trump in the face and prompting the voters to make the right decision: “If you care about your future, vote for it.”
Another example is “Our Fight Song” produced by Elizabeth Banks, featuring actors, musicians and supporters singing acappella for Hillary Clinton to the Rachel Platten’s song.
Overall I believe that celebrity endorsement can work, but what really counts and ultimately makes a difference is the credibility, trustworthiness and popularity of the celebrity.