Penn Senior Writing Fellow Jo Ann Caplin is quoted by The Daily Pennsylvanian on politics and celebrity.

Stars aren't significant

Celebrity endorsements may make headlines, but they don't play a huge role in the decision of the average voter

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 10, 2008

Last Saturday, Bruce Springsteen Barack-ed out for fans and politicos alike on the Ben Franklin Parkway in support of his favorite presidential candidate. As the voter registration deadline loomed in Pennsylvania, The Boss took the stage to inspire us to vote in favor of The One who was born to run, Senator Barack Obama.

Springsteen's not alone in using his fame for political purposes. Celebrities all over are throwing their (designer) hats into the ring, closing the gap between the Hollywood Hills and Capitol Hill. On the same day Springsteen sang his praises for Obama in Philadelphia, Senator John McCain attended a fundraiser in Los Angeles with Kelsey Grammer and other famous friends, bundling at least $250,000 in campaign contributions.

All this begs the question: Do celebrity endorsements actually make a difference in the way people vote?

Let's look at each candidate's fan club. McCain cohorts include Sylvester Stallone, rapper Daddy Yankee, and reality TV Barbie doll Heidi Montag. The list of Obamaniacs is a bit longer, with stars from George Clooney to Fat Joe to Barbra Streisand throwing their weight behind the Democratic nominee.

This election, with the culture of celebrity and Internet influence reaching obscene heights, stars have unprecedented opportunities to preach their political gospels. Rapper collaborated with several stars to make the "Yes We Can" music video out of an Obama speech, comedian Sarah Silverman released a video convincing grandparents in Florida to vote Democratic, and many a celeb showed their support at the conventions in August.

Obama has the icing on the celebrity endorsement cake with Oprah, and her 23 million American viewers each week, in his corner.

Celebrity involvement in politics is hardly new.

This relationship goes far beyond 2008 and even the last several elections. Jo Ann Caplin, senior writing fellow at Penn and former Emmy Award-winning network news producer, explains the age-old relationship between Washington and Hollywood elite, recalling, "I was at a lunch at the Senate in the '80s, and John Denver was showing up. There was such a buzz among the politicians that a celebrity" would be in their midst.

Why would the movers and shakers of government, the rulers of our nation, clamor over a country singer?

"Celebrities and politicians like each other," Caplin explains. "One has money, and one has power. There's always been this mutual fascination."

But do movie stars really help presidential hopefuls?

It makes sense that celebrities - who attract millions of citizens to spend $10.50 to see them on the silver screen - could influence the way in which people, especially the uninformed, will vote.

But research shows this isn't the case. In a survey conducted last September, the Pew Institute found that for all the hype surrounding the celebrity endorsement, the publicity hardly affects how citizens vote.

One reason for the lack of a correlation between these public endorsements and voters' opinions, Engineering freshman Zach Zarrow says, is that "just because they're celebrities doesn't mean they have credibility in what they say."

But the lack of real influence from celebrities goes beyond their incredibility.

According to Caplin, "I can't see that celebrity support of one candidate or another matters much in the long run. One might enjoy a free Springsteen concert, but that doesn't mean one will vote like Springsteen. One might pay thousands to see a Streisand concert, [but] if you pay thousands, you probably will vote for the candidate [anyway]."

Those of us willing to listen to celebrities' political opinions are probably only listening to those with opinions reinforcing our own. In an election so polarized, so politicized and so important, no Springsteen song is really going to shake us in our beliefs.

Twenty-five days till the election, our minds are pretty much made up.