EVERYBODY WANTS TO GET INTO THE ACT
In light of the recent tug-of-war between the Clinton and Obama camps over who-has-the-most-Kennedys, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of this year’s other celebrity endorsements.
In the 2008 race, it seems Everybody Is A Star (as Sly Stone once sang) and of course, every candidate wants to be a rock star. Hey, even Mike Huckabee is a decent bass player, always making a point to jam with the band at campaign events and he looks pretty cool onstage …um…for a Republican, that is. (Just spare us John McCain singing “bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran” again – please!)
Well, you know what they say – if you can’t be a rock star, try to be seen with as many rock stars as possible. If you want to throw off the old Washington fuddy-duddy image, you need movie stars, TV stars, hell, even porn stars to say you’re hip. Even better, get them to endorse and campaign for you.
But does star power really sway Americans at the polls? In our celebrity-obsessed society, “the Oprah effect” may just make a bigger difference this year than ever before. So here’s a look at who’s-endorsing-who in the Hollywood Who’s-Who – and a fascinating glimpse backwards at celebrity political endorsements of years gone by.
(Incidentally, if you’re old enough to remember Frank Sinatra singing “High Hopes” for Jack Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, you’re not old – you’re retro! – and that’s very cool nowadays. Bouffants and pillbox hats are making a comeback, too. So now your grandkids must think you’re totally groovy, baby…especially if you have one of these up in the attic: )
45 r.p.m. record (anybody remember those things?) of JFK’s 1960 campaign theme song. But don’t let the label fool `ya – it’s Sinatra doing the vocal – not Kennedy, thankfully.
THE STAR-SPANGLED BANTER
Monday night’s “O’Reilly Factor” featured a video clip of 50 Cent in a brief in-car interview. When asked why he endorses Sen. Hillary Clinton, he replies: “I think she’ll do a good job.”
The clip cuts to the end of the interview, and as the reporter steps out of the car and thanks “Mr. Cent” for the ride, 50 Cent adds: “I’m not sure America’s ready to have a black president. I think they might kill him.”
Although their endorsements stem from various reasons and issues, dozens of celebrities — from A-listers to D-listers — have publicly announced support for candidates for the 2008 primary election. Most recently, John Mayer and Perez Hilton joined 50 Cent on Clinton’s campaign trail. Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and folk singer Arlo Guthrie are Ron Paul supporters, and Usher, Ne-Yo and the Goo Goo Dolls are backing Sen. Barack Obama.
Musicians and actors are not the only ones voicing their support. Three of America’s notorious action heroes — Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), the Terminator/Governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Walker, Texas Ranger (Chuck Norris) — endorse Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, respectively.
“Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse. He tells America how it’s going to be,” Huckabee says in a “Chuck Norris-approved” campaign advertisement.
Stallone announced his endorsement for McCain on Fox News in January, expressing his appreciation of McCain’s military service in the Vietnam War. And it’s not hard to see why a beefcake actor like Stallone would be drawn to the war veteran candidate, regardless of whether he agrees with McCain’s views on Second Amendment rights.
“There’s something about matching the character with the script, and right now, the script that’s being written in reality is pretty brutal and pretty hard-edge, like a rough action film, and you need someone who’s been in that,” Stallone said in his interview.
However, it’s not easy to tell whether celebrities’ endorsements have had significant impact on individual candidates’ campaigns. No doubt Oprah Winfrey’s support for Obama has captivated America’s attention. But it is difficult to say if pornstar Jenna Jameson’s — and the group of exotic dancers from the New York City club Scores, for that matter — endorsement of Clinton has attracted much more than an afterthought.
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Former President Warren G. Harding is frequently considered to be the progenitor of the celebrity endorsement, running for president in 1920 with the support of silent movie stars Lillian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Al Jolson.
Former President John F. Kennedy had the Rat Pack on his side in 1960, although he distanced himself from the group based on rumors that it had mob connections. And former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even had the endorsement of a B-List movie star by the name of Ronald Reagan.
Usher and will.i.am are among the celebrities lending name recognition to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign.
But with all of these presidential endorsements, the question still remains: Do celebrity endorsements affect voters’ preferences? Although data on the subject are sparse, Political Science Associate Professor David Jackson of Bowling Green State University has conducted the most research in the field.
In his studies, Jackson determined that celebrities’ political views are likely to strengthen the support of those who already were inclined towards that position, and also make unpopular views slightly more acceptable to those less inclined to agree.
However, translating these views into votes is less certain.“May we extrapolate this to vote choice? I’m not sure, but I think so, because the results are modest.” Jackson concluded in one study.Statistics from Super Tuesday showed that 56 percent of voters under the age 29 voted for Obama.
While there is no proven direct link between this result and celebrity endorsements, entertainers geared toward the younger generation — John Legend, Scarlett Johansson and Win Butler from the Arcade Fire — have sided with the Obama camp.
This trend was demonstrated when will.i.am released a music video — with the kind of organization previously seen only in “We Are the World”-like collaborations — that included an ensemble of famous entertainers, including Nick Cannon, Herbie Hancock and Adam Rodriguez of “CSI Miami,” among others, supporting Obama. The video, set to the senator’s “Yes We Can” New Hampshire speech, grabbed the attention of pundits, and it quickly spread to YouTube where it has garnered more than 4 million views since the week of Super Tuesday.
On the other side of the Democratic campaign, CNN polls from Super Tuesday showed that 59 percent of white women voted for Clinton, who was largely endorsed by veteran entertainers geared toward an older, whiter audience — Madonna, Jon Bon Jovi and Barbara Streisand.
Whether celebrities directly prompt voters to join in supporting their respective candidates, endorsement by artists in certain genres and age groups at least attracts the attention of various communities.Support from prominent celebrities in more obscure genres allows candidates to gain name recognition in niche communities through non-traditional, less political means.
Take lyricists Common and Talib Kweli, who released tracks in 2007 rapping about Obama that aim to capture the attention of the neo-soul, hip-hop community.“My raps ignite people like Obama,” Common raps in “The People,” the first single from his 2007 album Finding Forever, while a shot of an Obama bumper-sticker juxtaposes the lyrics in the music video.
Much of endorsement is about gaining popularity, and celebrity endorsement goes both ways: everybody wins. For some entertainers, passionate endorsement actually ignited their popularity — like Obama Girl and Taryn Southern from the “Hott 4 Hill” video on YouTube. (Although Obama Girl’s crush apparently didn’t exactly bring her dancing into the polls on Tuesday. Turns out she didn’t vote.)
For other celebrities, endorsing a candidate helped promote their own popularity as well. For instance, Sacha Baron Cohen, playing his role as Borat Sagdiyev, spoke to Reuters last November in his characteristic broken English about the ’08 race: “I cannot believe that it possible a woman can become Premier of U.S. and A . . . I personal would like the basketball player, Barack Obamas, to be Premier.”
While it is questionable whether celebrity endorsements are in fact effective, the 2008 primary’s popularity contest shows that a candidate can’t afford to be without them. Maybe if Gov. Mitt Romney gained more star power and had more than Pat Boone and Donny and Marie Osmond on his side, he would have made it past Super Tuesday.
— David Marek and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of the Emory Wheel also contributed to this report.