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Wednesday January 26th

How influential are influencers? Political science professors explain

DTH Photo Illustration. As student voters chose which candidates to vote for, many considered the endorsements of celebrities.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. As student voters chose which candidates to vote for, many considered the endorsements of celebrities.

Social media exploded when 20-year-old rapper Lil Pump supported President Donald Trump on stage at a rally, raising the question of how much of an impact celebrity endorsements have on the presidential election, especially among young people.

There have been many celebrities showing their support for politicians this year, such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Lil Pump and Ice Cube. 

During election season, celebrities endorse political candidates, but the question is, how influential are the influencers?

Ashley Anderson, assistant professor of political science at UNC, said she believes celebrities can have an impact on certain groups, especially low-information voters. She gave Beyoncé as an example a high profile celebrity who could potentially influence voters. 

“If you didn't know the candidates' platforms very intimately, these types of high-profile cues could make you think, 'Oh this person is rich enough to be well engaged in the system, maybe she knows more than I do, and so I'm going to trust her endorsement,'" Anderson said.  

Anderson said she thinks a voter's likelihood to be influenced politically by celebrity endorsements is not based on age so much as their political interest and knowledge. 

"Beyoncé could come out tomorrow and say ‘I support Donald Trump’ and I would say, 'Oh well she's an idiot,'" Anderson said. "Like, I would not follow that endorsement because I know what my ideology is and what my life circumstances are, and that determines who I would vote for.” 

Marc Hetherington, a professor of political science at UNC, said he is unsure how much endorsements have an impact on voters because celebrity endorsements are now expected. 

He said the public already knows that most of Hollywood is going to support the Democratic nominee, so their opinion might not make much of a difference in the presidential election. 

"I am interested in getting a sense of the surprise endorsements, among those who are really prominent hip hop celebrities, especially a guy like Ice Cube endorsing Donald Trump," Hetherington said. "Here is a guy who was in N.W.A. 30 years ago, which was the most anti-police, anti-law and order musical outfit that you could imagine."

Anderson said she thinks Trump is more likely to trust celebrities since he was a celebrity before becoming president. Therefore, she said the public should also be wary of blindly following celebrities’ lead.

"Most of the celebrities that I have seen thus far are not terribly informed," Anderson said. 

Laura W. Brill, director of The Civics Center, an organization that focuses on youth voter participation, said she believes celebrities are helpful in bringing attention to issues, but the conversation should go beyond just what celebrities are saying.

"We need to build a culture that involves civic engagement, including voting," Brill said. "Celebrities can certainly help with that, and they can definitely help spread the word, but the main ingredient is young people themselves."

Having young people involved could potentially decrease the influence of celebrities on them because they would have more information. 

"Especially in a general election where partisanship matters the most, younger people are going to be the folks who have less strong partisan connections, so everything affects them more," Hetherington said. 

Anderson and Hetherington both said there are still positive ways that celebrities are able to influence people.

Anderson said celebrities can be the most impactful by getting citizens to register to vote or become politically engaged. They can also advocate for protecting voters or fighting against voter suppression.

Anderson said it is important for voters to realize that the lives of celebrities are different than the average person, and to take what they’re saying with a grain of salt. 

“Their kids go to private schools, they have the best health care they can afford, they honestly don't want all those taxes, so when we think specifically about policies, what our celebrity friends are telling us to do, just realize that your life is not like theirs,” Anderson said. 

Anderson said she would take political cues from people who have similar lives to her rather than celebrities. 

“I would rather look at the people around me and find the most politically informed of those people and say, 'Oh, this person has a life like mine and knows about politics, who are they going for and why?'” Anderson said. 


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