Do Celebrity Endorsements Affect Politics?

SAN DIEGO, USA - MAY 27, 2016: Huge groups of protesters clash with Trump supporters in a verbal exchange outside a Trump rally at the San Diego Convention Center.

Donald Trump has promised that the 2016 Republican National Convention will be much more entertaining than previous presidential conventions.

Are politicians entertaining?

Well, the ex-host of a popular television show like Trump might be, but Trump himself has said previous conventions were “boring” because “there’s a lot of sameness in conventions.”

He’s diplomatically saying that politicians aren’t entertaining. Consequently, Trump has invited provocative celebrities like ex-football coach Mike Ditka and ex-basketball coach Bob Knight to speak at the July 18-July 21 convention in Cleveland.

“(The convention’s) not gonna be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the business executive who won the Republican nomination for president after winning 33 primaries and will become the official nominee in Cleveland, said.

“(The schedule will be) a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all the sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

Historically, political analysts have believed that the popularity of a candidate for elected office from the presidency on down is boosted when other politicians such as senators and governors vouch for the candidate’s qualifications, character, integrity, and, most importantly, performance in previous and current jobs.

Thus, presidential conventions have featured dozens of politicians talking more about their political party’s presidential nominee (and vice presidential nominee) than themselves.

The same politicians have also historically traveled with their party’s presidential nominee and made speeches touting the nominee. Although many critics of America’s modern celebrity culture might not be aware of this, celebrities have also endorsed presidential candidates for a long time.

The Boston Globe article “Do celebrity endorsements make a difference?” points out that Al Jolson campaigned for winning candidate Warren Harding in 1920 and the Rat Pack led by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis campaigned for winning candidate John Kennedy in 1960.

Trump, who has struggled to get many traditional politicians in the Republican Party such as Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush to endorse him, appears to be willing to make celebrities a larger part of his formula for getting elected than past politicians.

And who can blame him after he clinched the Republican nomination with a resounding win in the Indiana primary after three ex-basketball coaches in the basketball-obsessed state — Knight, Gene Keady, and Digger Phelps — as well as ex-Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz endorsed him?

Trump, a unique business executive/celebrity since the 1980s with many celebrity friends from his TV show “The Celebrity Apprentice” as well as many other appearances with celebrities, has collected celebrity endorsements like he was a Democrat.

He’s done better in the conservative sports world than liberal Hollywood, but his non-sports endorsements include Kid Rock, Stephen Baldwin, Gary Busey, Lou Ferrigno, Ted Nugent, Wayne Newton, Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” Charlie Sheen, Kirstie Alley, Jesse James, Scott Baio, Jon Voight, and Loretta Lynn.

As for the sports world, Trump has so many endorsements from sports stars that there are articles on websites that do nothing but list them. The NJ.com article “Sports figures aboard Team Trump” lists, among others, football stars Tom Brady, Herschel Walker, and Terrell Owens.

Basketball stars Dennis Rodman and Latrell Sprewell, baseball stars John Rocker and Clay Buccholz, pro wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Jerry Lawler, boxer Mike Tyson, and NASCAR figures Bill Elliott, son Chase Elliott, Brian France, David Ragan, and Ryan Newman, as well as Knight and Ditka.

Football bad boy Richie Incognito and golf bad boy John Daly have also endorsed Trump. In fact, the list of Trump endorsers is laden with celebrities with controversial pasts who appeal to the very same anti-establishment voters that Trump has been most successful appealing to.

Will these celebrities help persuade people to vote for Trump? Believe it or not, there have been studies on this issue.

Studies Detail Celebrities’ Impact

Can you quantify the impact of a celebrity endorsement? You can if the measurement is sales, according to a study published by the Journal of Advertising Research.

“While stocks go up roughly a quarter of a percentage point, on average, with a celebrity endorsement, sales for products endorsed by athletes go up by an average of 4 percent,” reports a MarketWatch article entitled “Do Celebrity Endorsements Work?” that summarized the study.

“What’s more, these sales boosts can be recharged by a career triumph — a Grand Slam for (tennis player) Roger Federer, an Olympic Gold Medal for (swimmer) Michael Phelps.

The co-author of the study, Anita Elberse, wrote an article for CNN entitled “Risks and rewards of celebrity endorsements.” In the article, she noted that the sales of several brands rose more than 20 percent after a celebrity endorsement.

This means that the right celebrity endorser matters. She added that celebrity endorsers can convince consumers that the product they are endorsing is high-quality.

“Consumers often cannot easily assess the true quality of products, at least not before they consume them,” she wrote. “But seeing a celebrity attaching his or her name and good reputation to a product may help alleviate some of their uncertainty. Consciously or unconsciously, they might trust, say, (tennis star Maria) Sharapova to endorse Prince tennis rackets only if those products truly are of premium quality.”

Interestingly, celebrity endorsements of political candidates might have more of an impact than celebrity endorsements of consumer products. An article by MarketingCharts entitled “How Influential Are Celebrities?” examined how consumers view celebrity endorsements.

The article purported that only 12 percent of consumers surveyed by Nielsen Corporation said that celebrity endorsements influenced their purchasing decisions, but 58 percent of people who responded to a Harris Interactive survey believe that a celebrity “changes people’s views about which (political) candidate to support.”

In general, it’s more difficult to quantify the value of a celebrity’s political endorsement. Studies suggest that a celebrity endorsement CAN matter, but doesn’t more often than not — at least not directly.

The articles on the topic repeatedly mention one celebrity — Oprah Winfrey. A few articles report that her endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic Party primaries was worth about one million votes in the current president’s battle against Hillary Clinton.

Winfrey’s endorsement was ultra-significant because she had never backed a political candidate before, she is extremely popular, and she is extremely influential, as evidenced by the surge in sales of books she has endorsed and featured on her television show.

During his 2000 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said Winfrey was his ideal choice to be vice president but he withdrew from the Reform Party race before he could win the nomination.

He could use her support now because few celebrities are credible enough to influence voters directly, North Carolina State University political science professor Michael Cobb said.

“It’s very difficult to isolate the impact of what celebrities say on turn out or vote choice,” Cobb told Vocativ in an article entitled “Do Celebrity Endorsements Help Presidential Candidates?” “(Studies) don’t really suggest celebrities are effective at getting people to want to vote.”

Celebrities’ Indirect Impact

Although most celebrities have a minimal impact on voting choices, they can impact a political race in three ways, Cobb told The Boston Globe.

Celebrities can:
* Increase the number of people at campaign rallies and events.
* Increase the amount of money raised by a political campaign.
* Increase the number of stories in the media and improve their placement.

Younger voters, in particular, can be influenced by celebrities indirectly, the studies report. Studies also show that celebrity endorsements can hurt the celebrities themselves.

“If you’re a celebrity and you’re [endorsing], you’re risking your brand,” Cobb told Vocativ, which reported that actress Angelina Jolie would be hurt by a hypothetical endorsement.

Ironically, the celebrity who could give advice to other celebrities on how to utilize their political endorsements is Trump himself, according to Vocativ, a media and technology company. In 2012, Trump’s endorsement of Mitt Romney for president helped the then business executive politically.

Although Trump was astute politically in 2012, there is one more thing he should know as he plans the 2016 Republican National Convention — there is no correlation between which presidential convention has the highest television ratings and which political party wins the presidential election.

“Reviewing The Convention Ratings,” an article by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, reported in September, 2012, that the major political party with the lower television ratings at its convention from 1960 to 2008 won only six of that period’s 13 presidential elections. The 2012 Democratic Convention had more TV viewers than the Republican Convention so the TV winner is now seven for 14.

“It’s safe to say that ratings have little to no electoral meaning,” the article reports.

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