Home Blog The Impact of Celebrities: From Box Office to Ballot Box

The Impact of Celebrities: From Box Office to Ballot Box

Aug 10, 2016
Vincent Moy, Director, Industry Analyst ;

Celebrity star-spotting is either a national pastime or collective guilty pleasure, depending on how you look at it. Have you ever glanced up when someone nearby exclaimed, “Look! It’s Tiger Woods/Gwen Stefani/ Sean Penn/(insert other famous person here)”?  Or have you tried to figure out which team the TV ad spokesperson plays for? How about peeking at the tabloids while standing in line at the grocery store? We have such a fascination with fame that using celebrities to endorse products is a natural extension of their attention-getting qualities.

Celebrities bring a lot to the table: name recognition, built-in brand equity and millions of consumer fans who want to emulate them. In this election year, endorsements mean appealing to Republicans and Democrats for their votes.  It’s no easy task since the different parties must certainly have different favorites, right? As it turns out, there’s a lot of overlap between top ranking celebrities that cuts across political party lines, according to NPD’s BrandLink. Iconic musical groups The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac have conservative fans, liberal fans, and fans in-between. Ditto for Troy Aikman, Taylor Swift and Leonardo DiCaprio. Celebrity is a meritocracy based on talent, and top-tier status means being popular among both red and blue state voters.

Republicans and Democrats have many favorite celebrities in common, but that doesn’t mean they line up on everything.  Conservative Republicans are more likely than liberal Democrats to choose athletes as celebrities whom they "like very much”, such as NFL quarterback Sam Bradford, pro golfer Jordan Spieth, and football legend Roger Staubach.  Men of both political parties admire athletes, but Republican men are more devout sports fans, elevating a host of other football stars and golfers to the top of the GOP’s celebrities list as well. 

In contrast to Republicans’ athletic roster, Democrats favor an entertainment-skewing mix of musical performers and actors. Liberal-leaning consumers are a younger, diverse group, and their tastes are reflected in favorites including Stephen Colbert, Felicity Huffman, Lisa Ling and Regina Spektor. Appreciation of the arts and different cultures is also evident in a wider variety of top-ranked music (Latin and World music) and film genres (indie and foreign films), especially among Democratic women.

The end-goal of any endorsement is to change minds and prompt fans into action. In the case of politics, candidates use borrowed equity to energize their core fan base and to help convert undecided voters.  In this election year, A-list stars have shown an unprecedented amount of support on the campaign trail and at both parties’ national conventions. But what lies beyond the obvious endorsements by Amy Schumer and Kerry Washington for Hillary vs. Kid Rock and the “Duck Dynasty” Robertson family for Trump? What happens when fans’ political leanings don’t necessarily line up with the celebrities’ appearances and endorsements? This dynamic seems inevitable for major stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Josh Groban who appeal to both sides of the aisle. Rather than being problematic, it’s a golden opportunity to gain new voters who are fans of the celebrity, but who wouldn’t have necessarily considered that candidate before.

Be it a credit card, a retail store or a political race, a successful endorsement means winning over new fans while keeping the ones you have. Now if only picking a Presidential candidate were so easy.