“Obama is my homeboy,” reads a fashionable t-shirt worn by reality TV star Kim Kardashian last March. While popular celebrities such as Kardashian publicly endorse presidential candidates to their young fans, many University of Miami students say a celebrity political endorsement may be counterproductive for the celebrity and for influencing young voters in general.
“I don’t think that celebrities should have any influence on political beliefs,” said senior James Mazzulla. “What gives celebrities justification that puts them in the place to have political influence? I couldn’t see why I would want to listen to a celebrity for political guidance or advice. I definitely think it’s annoying.”
Although students such as Mazzulla say celebrities should not have the right to politically influence young people, senior Lindsay Crouch believes that the level of influence a celebrity can have on young voters can often be unavoidable.
“[Celebrities] are in the public eye so much and kids look up to them as a role model,” Crouch said.
While young voters witness celebrity presence in the media during the election season, some professionals attest that a celebrity endorsement is a marketing strategy that lacks substance.
“Celebrity endorsements are not viewed for their weight, but for their advertising potential,” said Sam Grogg, dean of the School of Communication, who is an expert on the subject of politics as it relates to Hollywood according to the University of Miami Web site. “In a way, getting a highly visible celebrity to endorse a candidate is like putting an ad on the Super Bowl – nothing is being said about the quality of the product, but an awful lot of people will now be aware of it.”
Thomas M. Steinfatt, a professor in the School of Communication, said the magnitude of an endorsement’s impact on voters depends on the particular celebrity expressing his or her political views.
“People will pay attention for a short time only unless the celebrity is associated with causes, like the environment, that the [voter is interested in],” Steinfatt said. “If it’s somebody like Paris Hilton, who doesn’t have many causes, it’s unlikely that she will have a lasting impact.”
The way a presidential candidate is marketed, by a celebrity or a candidate’s campaign, is a key determinant in influencing young voters, said Samantha Skey, executive vice president of Strategic Marketing for Alloy Media + Marketing.
“[Senator Barack] Obama is marketed almost like a brand,” said Skey, whose company has conducted research on college students’ responses to the different candidates and how they are marketed. “Obama has struck a chord with college students and young people because his message of ‘Yes We Can’ is very accessible and optimistic, which resonates with today’s empowered group of young citizens.”
Skey added that, through focus groups and surveys, her company found that students react similarly to positive company slogans – such as Nike’s ‘Just Do It” – as they do to Obama’s message of “Yes We Can” and “Change You Can Believe In.”
Skey said that most marketers agree that celebrity endorsements can have a “mixed impact” on young voters.
“As with any celebrity endorsement, you take the baggage of the celebrity too,” Skey said. “If that celebrity is engaged in some behavior that is unbecoming, that can reflect on a candidate. Depending on the celebrity, an endorsement can have a positive or negative effect on voters.”
Alessandra Cuetara, a sophomore, said hip-hop artist Diddy’s political endorsements and campaigning is “most annoying,” while rapper 50 Cent is “most believable.”
“I think it’s amusing,” Cuetara said. “It doesn’t affect me, but I think they’re hurting themselves. They can lose fans.”
Overall, many young voters dislike celebrity endorsements during the political season.
“Celebrities are famous people, but that’s all they should be. They shouldn’t be influential or manipulative popular figures,” said Marissa Orenstein, a junior. “They should keep their political opinions to themselves. People should make their decisions on the issues they care about, not on what Hollywood wants.”