Marketing Professor Answers Question: Do Celebrity Endorsements Win First-time Votes?

1.3.2008 Marketing, News Release, School News

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has been stumping for presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and actors Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins have been making appearances on the Iowa campaign trail for former N.C. Sen. John Edwards.

AUDIO Celebrity Influence on First-Time Voters – 88.5 WFDD's Cindy DiMattia discusses whether celebrities have any influence over those heading to the polls for the first time with Babcock marketing professor Kenny Herbst, who has been studying the subject.

But both Democratic presidential candidates have admitted that while celebrity endorsements create excitement for the campaign, they are not sure how many votes they actually bring in.

Several studies, including one by Kenneth Herbst, an assistant professor of marketing at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management, show that while celebrity endorsements may have an impact on the candidates’ image, they don’t necessarily translate into votes, at least for those heading to the polls for the first time.

“Political Star Power and Political Parties: Does Celebrity Endorsement Win First-Time Votes?,” which Herbst co-wrote with Natalie Wood from Saint Joseph’s University’s Haub School of Business, found that in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, celebrities may have looked pretty, but they were not particularly influential on first-time voters.

“Celebrity involvement in politics has grown with each campaign, but the debate still exists on just how influential these celebrities are and how they can motivate young people to vote,” Herbst and Wood wrote. “Despite the abundance of celebrity endorsements, voters’ close family members and well-respected others seem to be a stronger predictor of first-time voting behavior.”

Winfrey’s potential impact on this year’s presidential election remains to be seen, Herbst added.

“Oprah was not an endorser during the election on which the data were collected. Her participation would be interesting to research because she has such a significant effect on a broad population in the United States. Whether listening to Oprah equates to voting generally in the election or actually voting for a specific candidate is yet to be seen. It seems Oprah will increase the general interest in the 2008 election – whether she garners votes for Obama is one of the big questions of the 2008 election.”

The results of the survey of 506 respondents were published in the Journal of Political Marketing.