WSU study: Celebrities can coax youth to vote
Oprah Winfrey's strong push for Barack Obama is likely to send more young people to the polls, but not necessarily to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, according to a new study done at Washington State University.
The Associated Press
SPOKANE — Oprah Winfrey's strong push for Barack Obama is likely to send more young people to the polls, but not necessarily to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, according to a new study done at Washington State University.
Celebrity endorsements are most effective in urging people to get involved in the political process by making it look cool, according to the study by members of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
The survey found that get-out-the-vote pitches by celebrities in the 2004 election cycle helped lead to an 11 percent increase in voting by people ages 18 to 24, compared with the 2000 election.
"It suggests that we can make use of celebrity culture to get students engaged," said Erica Austin, a co-author of the study and dean of the school. "They want to be like celebrities."
But there are limits. Most of the young people did not like being told by celebrities whom to vote for, Austin said. And past research has concluded that being endorsed by a particular celebrity often carries as much potential to turn off some voters as to fire up others.
This year has seen the usual spate of high-profile endorsements, including liberals like Barbra Streisand pushing hard for Obama, and Sylvester Stallone and other Hollywood conservatives stumping for Republican John McCain.
The paper, to be published in the next issue of "Mass Communications and Society," was based on surveys of 305 WSU students in Pullman in the week before the 2004 general election, Austin said.
The findings mirror a 2004 study by Natalie Wood, an expert on celebrity endorsements in politics at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
"They are not an influence in swaying the vote," Wood said. "Telling me to vote is one thing, but telling me who to vote for is different."
"Family and friends have a greater influence on who to vote for," she added.
One reason is that young people tend to be very media-savvy and question the motivations of celebrity endorsers, she said.
The WSU study tried to measure the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement campaigns in lowering complacency among young voters. The research centered on the use of celebrities such as Beyonce Knowles, Christina Aguilera and P. Diddy in "get-out-the-vote" campaigns during the 2004 presidential campaign.
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