Celebrity endorsements fail to secure votes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey is backing Barack Obama, singer Barbra Streisand is behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and actor Sean Penn backed Republican Dennis Kucinich.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L), his wife Michelle (C) and talk show host Oprah Winfrey wave to the crowd at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire December 9, 2007. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES)

But does a celebrity endorsement translate into votes? No, says a new study.

The number of celebrity endorsements in the United States’ 2008 presidential election are on the rise, with John Edwards joined on the campaign trail this week by actors Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins, while Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt are to perform at one of his meetings.

Actor Robert Duvall is backing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Martin Sheen, who played the president on television, is endorsing Bill Richardson as actor Chuck Norris backs former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

But new research backs up the findings of two polls released this year that suggest while celebrity endorsements might help a campaign earn visibility, the support of the stars actually yields little return in the voting booth.

“In terms of voting behavior, family and significant others are more influential than celebrities in engaging support for a political candidate,” said Natalie Wood, a marketing expert at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Wood’s research on celebrity endorsements, which was recently published by the Journal of Political Marketing, found one group in particular was being targeted by the celebrity endorsements -- young, first-time voters.

But do these celebrity campaigners make a difference?

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“At first glance, it would appear that the money and time invested in celebrity support is wasteful,” said Wood, who expects more celebrities to join candidates as the election draws nearer.

These campaigns can, in fact, backfire. Sometimes if young voters perceive a celebrity is using their status to influence their voting, they will rebel and vote the opposite way.

An October Gallup poll found that most Americans say endorsements are not an important factor in their presidential vote while 37 percent said these endorsements were somewhat important or very important to their vote.

The telephone poll of 1,009 people found that 81 percent said talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Democratic hopeful Obama would make no difference to their vote.

A Pew Research poll in September found that 69 percent of respondents would not be influenced by Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama.

Wood said that securing celebrity support for a candidate was often very expensive, but could earn a campaign exposure.

“Political parties welcome celebrity endorsements because they draw attention and financial support to their campaign,” said Wood.

“Celebrities willingly participate either because they believe they can make a difference or, in some way, increase their own level of marketability.”

But Wood concluded that the best strategy for celebrities wishing to impact an election could be to urge young people to vote, but to also make their own decisions.

“It may be that celebrities are more successful motivating people to vote in general as opposed to tendering a vote for a specific candidate,” she said.