Leadership Postulate for this Blog: The high profile of actors and actresses makes their political opinions more visible to us than other activist groups. The visibility of their opinions will impact which candidate voters will choose.
Research Findings to Support this Blog: According to a study by David J. Jackson and Thomas Darrow, young people’s level of agreement with certain political statements is increased by the endorsement by celebrities. Results of the study suggest that celebrity endorsements make unpopular statements more palatable, while increasing the level of agreement with already popular opinions.
It is well known that a majority of Hollywood actors, writers, producers and directors favor Democrats, although there are a sizable number of Republicans in each profession. For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the entertainment industry gave $33.1 million to federal candidates in 2004, with about 70 percent of it going to Democrats. (http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/06/24/hollywood-stars-hit-the-red-carpet-for-obama/) To what extent the Hollywood creative community has in leading public opinion for Democrats or Republicans, or conservatives or liberals, the answer appears to be mixed, with celebrities’ influence exerted positively in some instances and not at all in others.
Whether we agree with them or not, most of us have come to expect movie stars to show their support (or opposition) to candidates and causes. The high profile of actors and actresses makes their political opinions more visible to us than other activist groups. While other leaders make their leanings known as well, they do not generally carry the same “box office” appeal of stars who sell magazines, films, TV shows, etc. to the masses and therefore generate less attention with their endorsements. (http://www.helium.com/items/182624-hollywood-and-politics-what-makes-movie-stars-political-experts)
This potential influence Hollywood possesses has split opinions across America virtually in half. A 2007 CBS News poll found that while 47 percent think Hollywood celebrities can offer a new perspective on political issues and should get involved in politics, a similar number – 48 percent — said celebrities are inexperienced about such issues and should stay out of politics. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/21/entertainment/main2498496.shtml)
Fans of actors know them primarily through their roles on TV or in the movies, not as people. When they learn more about their convictions and actions behind their beliefs as an everyday citizen, the disclosures can negate their positions if they are seen as saying “Do what I say, not what I do.” Madonna, for instance, did not turn out to be a terrifically effective spokesperson for Rock the Vote when it was later revealed that she had not bothered to vote in previous presidential elections. (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200409/alterman)
As for how much impact Hollywood has on “regular folks” in their decisions when voting, there is precious little research to gauge its effects. There was a study published in 2005 analyzing celebrities’ opinions on English-speaking young adults in Canada, where the authors concluded that “These results suggest that celebrity endorsements make unpopular statements more palatable, while increasing the level of agreement with already popular opinions.” (http://hij.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/10/3/80) But again, that survey took place in Canada, not the United States.
Perhaps the only method to measure the impact of celebrity endorsements is to examine the election results themselves, and while there is a Democratic majority in Congress that seems likely to hold after the 2008 elections, the presidential race between McCain and Obama remains virtually tied according to the polls, and many state governments are split between Democrats and Republicans. If there is a bias for support for Democratic candidates in Hollywood, its influence is reflected at most only to a certain degree based on these results. And while there are celebrities that have moved successfully into politics (e.g., Ronald Reagan), there are about an equal number that have failed (e.g., Lynn Swann’s run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006).
Whatever one may think of Hollywood’s involvement in politics, it looks likely it will stay – and only become stronger in the next few years. In 2006 several L.A.-based entertainment executives formed a politically minded production company called First Tuesday Media with the help of Laura Nichols, a longtime aide to former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), to create Web and television content designed to move a political or policy message. (http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/20070911_politics_hollywood_style/) Whether such joint ventures do produce changes in the way non-Hollywood citizens view issues or candidates remain to be seen.
This blog is the fourth in a series of blogs that examines Obama and McCain’s personal leadership styles. With the presidential election rapidly approaching, we thought it would be interesting to study the similarities and differences between the two. Leadership involves much more than just saying what needs to be done and expecting it to happen, and it will be interesting to see how the two candidates approach our country’s voters.