Over the years, countless celebrities have used their fame and status to bring attention to contemporary political issues. From presidential elections to the war in Darfur, from rebuilding New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to constructing schools in Malawi - celebrities have run the gamut when it comes to adopting political positions about the world. Despite the hype and headlines that tend to accompany these celebrity positions, one can only wonder: do celebrities' political endorsements matter?
Oprah Winfrey Makes Us Think So …
Few celebrities possess the brand equity that Oprah Winfrey enjoys, and her famous book club offers an excellent example of the extent to which celebrity support can influence popular opinion. Oprah's book club choices often resulted in dramatic increases in a selected title's sales. Similarly, Oprah's endorsement of Barack Obama for president back in 2007 is believed to have resulted in an additional one million votes for him during the 2008 presidential election, according to one study published in the Journal of Law, Economics and Organization Advance Access. Notably, she had never previously endorsed a candidate for president, a fact which may have lent more credibility to Oprah's support for Obama. The Oprah Winfrey effect on the 2008 presidential election supports the notion that certain celebrity opinions do matter.
Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and P-Diddy Made a Difference!
But Oprah Winfrey is not the only celebrity to whom the American public listens. One Washington State University study concluded that online voter registration efforts supported by celebrity Get-Out-The-Vote promotions contributed to increased voter participation rates among 18- to 24-year-olds during the 2004 presidential election season. Which celebrities were involved in this campaign? The group included Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Dr. Dre and P-Diddy, among others. Again, this demonstrates just how strongly celebrity encouragement weighs in on the actions of the American public.
Building Awareness of Issues Abroad: Madonna and George Clooney
Madonna and George Clooney, two well-known "A-list" celebrities, are excellent examples of celebrities who have used their celebrity "megaphones" to voice their opinions regarding political issues, both at home and abroad. While these issues may not necessarily yield vote or action on the part of the American public, the result of these celebrities' outspokenness is a heightened awareness of situations abroad. For example, George Clooney has been a vocal critic of humanitarian issues in the Sudan for several years and was even arrested earlier this year due to his activism, which generated quite a few headlines. Meanwhile, Madonna's condemnation of the Russian government's conviction of punk band Pussy Riot brought the band's legal plight into the mainstream media for several weeks. In either case, the American public's awareness of these issues was enhanced by these celebrities' awareness.
The Bottom Line
Under certain circumstances, influential celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey are able to influence public opinion by making selective endorsements for elective offices, and some celebrities have been able to leverage their fame and popularity to bring awareness to controversial foreign affairs. While not all celebrity endorsements are likely to be as effective as that of Oprah Winfrey, it stands to reason that some celebrities' political positions can influence the American public. If nothing else, a celebrity's fame and popularity will bring issues to light that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
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