Friday, January 23, 2009

Superstar Power

One of the interesting things about The Good, the Bad, and Joe Lieberman, a James Wolcott piece in February's issue of Vanity Fair, is the discussion about celebrity influence on the election.

Wolcott mentions, for example, Black-Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am, whose song Yes We Can "was alchemized into an anthemic, iconic YouTube classic" and included "testimonial cameos from Scarlett Johansson, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Amber Valletta, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."

Did will.i.am's song send voters to the polls? Did Matt Damon's condemnation of Sarah Palin persuade any voters? Did comedians Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman impact the election in any significant way?

Do celebrity endorsements even matter?

According to a pair of economists at the University of Maryland, celebrity endorsements can make a difference. In their study, The Role of Celebrity Endorsements in Politics: Oprah, Obama, and the 2008 Democratic Primary, the economists reveal that Oprah Winfrey had a "statistically and politically significant effects on Obama’s political outcomes." In fact, the study estimates that Oprah was responsible for 1,015,559 votes for Obama.

Since Oprah's audience is predominately female, I can't help but wonder--how many of those 1,015,559 votes were cast by women?

Related Reading:

Obama's Celebrity Army at Time

Celebrity Power? at Forbes

John McCain's Presidential Campaign Endorsements

Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign Endorsements

3 comments:

stephkasten said...

I think that celebrities can certainly have a profound influence on politics, as evidenced by the 2008 election. However, I'm not sure that this is a step in the right direction. Celebrities tended to involve young voters in particular, but without much legitimate information to back up their endorsement. I think this phenomenon might have the effect of producing a generation of voters whose political convictions are based more on adoration for their favorite celebrities than on politicians' actual platforms.

Thomas Travagli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Travagli said...

I would say that people who have a segment of the media’s attention can be effective in swaying the votes of others who have not thoroughly researched certain topics. Because the statements of these celebrities become saturated in the media in some cases, those who have not shaped their own opinions might simply adopt the views of someone they admire, or believe to be an authority.

I wouldn’t entirely doubt the catalyzing effects that people like Oprah can have. In a 1996 show about mad cow disease, she remarked, “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!” A subsequent drop of nearly $12 million in the income of beef producers even caused the introduction of a lawsuit by Texas cattlemen. I don’t find it hard to image that a similar effect may have taken place in this past election, especially with the large number of celebrities pressing their sentiments into the public’s awareness and possibly inspiring their supporters.