Newswise — With Oprah Winfrey's recent announcement that she will support Barack Obama, it would appear that it is open season for celebrity endorsements in the 2008 presidential election. As the election draws nearer, you can expect more celebrities to promote their choice for the next leader of the free world, and to urge their devoted fans to follow suit.
One group in particular is the target audience for many celebrity endorsements. Young, first-time voters are often urged to vote by their favorite celebrity icons, and frequently asked to support a specific candidate. But do these celebrity campaigners make a difference for young voters?
"In terms of voting behavior, family and significant others are more influential than celebrities in engaging support for a political candidate," explains Natalie Wood, Ph.D., a marketing expert at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia whose research on celebrity endorsements was recently published by the Journal of Political Marketing. "At first glance, it would appear that the money and time invested in celebrity support is wasteful."
Wood says that securing celebrity support for a candidate is often very expensive, but notes that a well-placed endorsement can help a campaign earn exposure.
"Political parties welcome celebrity endorsements because they draw attention and financial support to their campaign," Wood says. "Celebrities willingly participate either because they believe they can make a difference or, in some way, increase their own level of marketability."
Sometimes, when young voters perceive that a celebrity is using their status in order to influence their voting, they will rebel against the endorsement, and vote the opposite of what they are urged to do.
Wood said that the best strategy for celebrities in affecting the outcome of elections might be to urge young people to vote, but also to 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," explains Wood.
So as pop culture stars begin to align themselves with one candidate or another, it is important for candidates to remember that deciding whom to vote for starts at home, and a famous face on the campaign trail can only take you so far.
Wood is an assistant professor of marketing at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Her research: "Political Star Power and Political Parties: Does Celebrity Endorsement Win First-Time Votes?" was recently published is the Journal of Political Marketing.