PULLMAN – In a newly published study by WSU researchers, Celebrity endorsements have emerged as an effective political strategy for engaging younger voters and getting them to the polls.
Featured in the most recent issue of the journal “Mass Communications and Society,” the study by researchers from the university’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication attempted to gauge the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement campaigns in lowering complacency among young voters and prompting their participation in the political process.
Conducted by Erica Austin, Bruce Pinkleton, Rebecca Van de Vord and Evan Epstein, the research centered on the use of celebrities such as Beyonce Knowles, Christina Aquilera and P. Diddy in “get-out-the-vote” campaigns conducted during the 2004 presidential campaign.
Previous research on voting patterns showed many young adults did not possess a strong interest in voting. In fact, turnout among 18-24 year olds historically had been lower than that of any other age group. The reasons for this lack of participation tended to come from apathy and preoccupation with self.
Austin and her colleagues noted that from the mid-1990s to 2000, civic engagement by young people fell to an all time low. However, in more recent years, voter turnout among 18-24 year olds has increased dramatically. Between 2000 and 2004, the turnout in voters within that age group increased 11 percent.
According to a 2004 Pace University Poll, 44% of newly registered voters were between the ages of 18-25, and 43% of these voters said they expected to stay involved in the political process. The WSU researchers found that the dramatic increase in voter participation by young people in 2004 was largely attributable to celebrity get-out-the-vote (GOTV) promotions.
“The results suggest that celebrity involvement in the promotion of civic engagement can have potentially positive effects that have both short-term and long-term benefits for the larger community,” Austin and her research team conclude in their study. “Appeals based on wishful identification with celebrities can increase young adults’ belief that participation can make a difference. These results therefore indicate that celebrity-based GOTV campaigns may produce real benefits to the political process, regardless of celebrities’ grasp of the specific issues at hand.
Examples of celebrity GOTV promotions included: “Declare Yourself,” a nonprofit campaign initiated in 2004. This campaign consisted of spoken word and music tours on college campuses. Singer, Christina Aguilera, launched “Declare Yourself Yahoo,” which was an online voter registration drive.
Rebecca Van de Vord
Hip-Hop Summit Action Network in 2001 was another campaign that sponsored Playstation 2 festivals, spoken word concerts, and was endorsed by Singer/Actress, Beyonce Knowles and Rapper, Dr. Dre. Citizen Change/Vote or Die was founded by P. Diddy Combs. He used the campaign to educate America’s youth by making voting appear hot, sexy and relevant to a generation. Since many young people admire and desire to be like these stars, their GOTV promotions really had an impact on the young people of America. Young people tended to believe the values, convictions, and behaviors portrayed by the celebrities as their own.
“Overall, celebrities have the power to motivate civic engagement regardless of their own grasp of the issues at hand,” the researchers concluded. “Celebrity’ presence and support of political involvement continue to be prominent in our society today, especially during this 2008 Presidential election.”
The researchers noted also that celebrity endorsements continued to play a role during the 2008 presidential primaries, in which Oprah Winfrey helped propel Barack Obama’s Democratic Party nomination and actor Chuck Norris helped move Mike Huckabee into a second place finish behind Republican candidate John McCain.