Effectiveness of Celebrity Endorsement of a Political Candidate among Young Voters

By Um, Nam-Hyun | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Effectiveness of Celebrity Endorsement of a Political Candidate among Young Voters


Um, Nam-Hyun, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Since the introduction of celebrity endorsement, all manner of celebrities have endorsed such things as brands, nonprofit organizations, geographical locations, and even political candidates. Endorsing political candidates is considered a worldwide phenomenon (Chou, 2015). In the United States of America (USA) the relationship between celebrities in the film industry based in Hollywood and politicians in Washington D.C. has long been intimate (Wood & Herbst, 2007). Throughout Democrat primaries and caucuses in 2008, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton enjoyed endorsement of some prominent (A-list) Hollywood celebrities. For instance, Barack Obama received endorsements from Will Smith, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Anniston, Scarlett Johansson, and Matt Damon, while Hillary Clinton received endorsements from Magic Johnson, Barbara Streisand, John Grisham, Jerry Springer, and many others. However, whether or not such support translated into actual votes has yet to be clarified.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama won the endorsement of the celebrity talk show host, actress, producer, media proprietor, and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey, and Garthwaite and Moore (2013) found that this endorsement increased the amount of financial campaign contributions, as well as increasing the number of votes Barack Obama received by approximately one million. In fact, Oprah Winfrey's endorsement was found to have increased overall voter turnout. However, according to a Gallup poll of 507 Americans (Carroll & Jones, 2007), her endorsement could have had negative effects, which suggests that celebrity endorsements might have no effect and could even be detrimental to a candidate's chances of winning.

Political campaign managers must carefully consider how an endorsement can help, or undermine, their candidate. Two aspects of celebrity endorsement that the results of many practice-driven surveys have failed to explain is why, and under what conditions, celebrity endorsements of political candidates are effective. By gaining an understanding of the factors affecting voting behaviors, it may be possible to shed light on the conditions, such as party identification and the strength of that identification, that influence the effects of celebrity endorsement. The impact of celebrity endorsement on the political process has not received rigorous scholarly research (Chou, 2014, 2015; Garthwaite & Moore, 2013; Jackson & Darrow, 2005). There is a shortage of studies partly because of the difficulties inherent in conducting experimental studies on the effects of celebrity endorsement. What is more, the results of studies conducted over the past decade concerning the effects of celebrities' endorsement have been inconsistent. The direct or indirect effects of celebrity endorsement are in need of further investigation.

My purpose in the current study was threefold. First, drawing upon reinforcement theory and reactance theory, my aim was to assess the effects of party identification (i.e., with the Democrat Party vs. the Republican Party in the USA) on the evaluation of celebrity endorsement of a political candidate. Second, I examined how, when a voter is processing a celebrity endorsement, he or she is influenced by his or her identification with that celebrity (i.e., weak vs. strong identification). Third, I assessed the varying effects of celebrity endorsement on decided and undecided (i.e., swing) voters, drawing upon the elaboration likelihood model.

Theoretical Background

Voting Behavior: Key Influences and Theories

People's voting behavior is influenced by four major factors: social identity (i.e., race, gender, and religion), partisan identification, issue positions, and candidate evaluations (Campbell, Gurin, & Miller, 1954). In an examination of the effects of celebrities' endorsements of political candidates, these four factors should be considered as potential moderating variables. …

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