In America, celebrities and politics go together. President Ronald Reagan was big in Hollywood before he was big in Washington, Arnie ‘The Terminator’ Schwarzenegger runs California and, apparently, Obama has Beyoncé and Jay-Z on speed dial. But over here in the UK, can a celebrity ever sway our vote?
Bey & Jay they are not, but this week Ant & Dec, who describe themselves as ‘staunchly Labour’, told* The Times* they didn’t feel that they could vote for the party. Dec said he couldn’t ‘see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister’. It’s bad news for Ed and he has vowed to win them back. But, does what they think matter to the rest us?
Celebrity endorsements are very important to politicians according to Editor-in-Chief of Heat magazine, Lucie Cave. She says, ‘When celebs put their names to stuff, it has the potential to go viral simply because of how famous they are.’
But, she points out, ‘It depends who the celeb is and what their influence or connection to that politician is seen to be. If it’s someone who’s a bit of a national treasure, like Miranda Hart or Ed Sheeran, then people might warm to the politician. And it goes without saying that if Harry Styles was to start hanging around at David Cameron’s house, then his fans would certainly be swayed.’
Media psychologist Arthur Cassidy agrees that ‘celebrities have incredible power to inform our decisions, we become emotionally attached to them and we are attracted to things that make us feel good.’
The politician might gain Instagram likes or Twitter followers while for the celebrity, Cassidy says, an endorsement has ‘the potential to increase their self worthiness through attachment to a high-profile politician who may be involved in charity organisations.’
It’s win win right? Until things go wrong.
If the politician messes up, the celebrity will be quick to jump ship because ultimately a celebrity’s main concern is ‘their likeability’
Famously in 1997, Tony Blair threw a party for Britpop’s finest at Downing Street. Noel Gallagher was pictured having a laugh with the PM, who as a result, seemed cool and completely different to the 18 years of stuffy Tory government that had come before him.
After the Iraq War, though, Gallagher denounced Blair, saying, ‘It turned out he was just a politician like all the rest.’
If the politician messes up, the celebrity will be quick to jump ship because, Cassidy says, ultimately a celebrity’s main concern is ‘their likeability’. And, he says, we know they ‘might just be doing it to look good’.
Politicians love to adopt celebrities anyway. The list of celebrity affiliations with political parties is long. JK Rowling donates money to Labour and Daniel Radcliffe said he voted Lib Dem in 2010. Geri Halliwell once said that Margaret Thatcher was the sixth Spice Girl and then, a few years later switched sides by starring in a Labour campaign video before the 2001 election (and release of her solo album)!
When Ed Miliband posed for a selfie with Joey Essex at The Sun Military Awards in 2013, Heat’s editor says, ‘He knew it would reach a whole new load of people who didn’t have a clue who he was (Joey included!).’ Whatever you think of Joey, he has over 3 million followers on Twitter. Ed has 380,000.
But can likes ever become votes?
Bobby Duffy, a pollster at Ipsos Mori, says that ‘individual celebrity endorsement is not that effective. People realise political decisions are difficult and want the person most qualified to make them.’
However, he notes that ‘politics have increasingly become more presidential’ in Britain though, focusing on individual leaders instead of parties.
In 2010 we had leadership debates for the first time and Nick Clegg came out particularly well because ‘he connected with young people, who thought he was authentic’ (this was before he broke his promise on tuition fees). London mayor, Boris Johnson, also scores high in popularity polls as he is more personality than politician.
According to Duffy’s research, Generation Y (that’s you if you’re between 18 and 30) are less likely to identify with a political party – 54% of us place ourselves in the ‘centre’. He says this could reflect our ‘lack of interest in traditional left-right party politics.’
At the end of the day, Bobby Duffy says, what’s most important to young people in politics is ‘authenticity’. ‘The big question is do politicians know what it’s like to live a normal life? People don’t think politicians do and celebrities are equally, if not more, removed.’
We might trust Russell to talk about addiction and value his personal experience as recovered drug addict but is he the guy to change our politics?
After Russell Brand started telling us all not to vote and writing books about revolution, there was actually a bit of a backlash against him. According to a YouGov survey from the end of last year, he is the celebrity seen as having the most ‘negative influence’ on political debate.
Angelina Jolie and Bob Geldof, on the other hand, came in at the top, in terms of positive ‘political influence’.
We like it when celebrities stick to what they know or when they endorse specific causes – such as Angelina working with William Hague on global sexual violence. We might trust Russell to talk about addiction and value his personal experience as a recovered drug addict, but is he the guy to change our politics? He got us all talking about it more for sure, but did anybody actually take him telling us not to vote seriously?
I did a poll of my own via Facebook and asked people whether he had influenced them. One friend said: ‘I find it really hard to take him seriously on politics, especially when he’s still doing TV shows like The Big Fat Quiz of the Year.’
So if not Russell then who? Is there a celebrity who would influence the way you vote? One pal suggested that they might listen to someone ‘a bit less famous, like Karen Brady from The Apprentice because she has had a good career and become successful.’
As my friend Sophie says: ‘Celebs can raise awareness of an issue because of media coverage. But would I change the way I vote because a famous person says so? Definitely not.’
Celebrities will always have influence but we remain savvy and sceptical, aware that celebrities will endorse anything if there’s something in it for them.
And, finally, if it hadn’t been for Ginger Spice, I might not have learned who Margaret Thatcher was at the age of nine.
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Follow Vicky on Twitter @victoria_spratt
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.