Ariana Grande and Danny Devito may not have a lot in common; one is a short, loud celebrity and the other is in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. However, they’re unified by at least one thing: they both support Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
Celebrity endorsements aren’t rare in the hyperpartisan world we live in today. Everyone seems to have their favorite candidates, especially during a contentious primary of fighting factions. Cardi B is in Sanders’ promotional videos. Jonathan Van Ness, of Queer Eye fame, does meet and greets with Elizabeth Warren. Even Amy Klobuchar has supporters, with Jane Lynch tweeting out support.
Endorsements from traditionally nonpolitical celebrities aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but why do they exist in the first place?
Historian Fred Inglis credits the first modern celebrities to the Roaring Twenties, with mass media first emerging in the form of silent movies. These films produced the first massively popular Hollywood stars and starlets, who politicians immediately capitalized on. In the 1920 and 1924 elections, stars would write songs endorsing their preferred candidates.
The concept of celebrity endorsements died down during the Great Depression. It started to resemble the system we have now during John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960, when Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald all vocally supported him as a candidate. In the 1980 presidential election, former movie star Ronald Reagan boasted an all-star supporting cast, while many country music stars supported Georgia-born Jimmy Carter.
In the past, celebrities were often criticized for voicing political support. Now, it’s almost expected. In fact, if you don’t, you’re often crucified.
Every celebrity, no matter how irrelevant, loves to give their opinions. See, for example, Clint Eastwood yelling at an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
However, it’s often debated whether celebrity endorsements actually do anything to help campaigns. According to a June HarrisX poll, 65% of registered voters say that a celebrity endorsement would have no bearing on the likelihood of voting for a particular candidate.
Voters are often contradictory, though. In a poll done by Morning Consult in March of 2018, Independents and Republicans alike say that a candidate getting Kim Kardashian’s endorsement would actually lower their likelihood of support. 47% of Democrats are more likely to vote for someone endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.
People’s pre-existing opinions of celebrities will determine whether or not they would take the endorsement into consideration, according to the Journal of Political Marketing. So even if people don’t consciously believe they’re being influenced, they probably are.
Though some voters are quick to dismiss celebrity endorsements, they are certainly not going away any time soon. Their impact on this primary cycle, though, likely won’t be seen in full until the Democratic National Convention in July.
For what it’s worth, I recommend that North by Northwestern endorse Marianne Williamson for President.
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