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Despite their questionable value, celebrity endorsements are welcome

Published: Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 9:28 a.m. CST

CHICAGO (MCT) — Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka endorsed Republican John McCain for president four years ago. And in 2004, Bruce Springsteen joined Democrat John Kerry on the campaign trail.

If “Iron Mike” and “The Boss” couldn’t sway voters to put their respective candidate in the White House, it’s hard to imagine that Meat Loaf and Honey Boo Boo would have much luck helping former Gov. Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama pull off a victory.

Yet there’s never a shortage of celebrities willing to throw their star power behind presidential candidates. Obama and Romney have rounded up impressive rosters of celebrity supporters this year.

On Team Obama, there is Pearl Jam, actresses Julianne Moore and Eva Longoria, director Tyler Perry, baseball legend Hank Aaron and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On Romney’s side are country music stars the Oak Ridge Boys and Lee Greenwood, billionaire Donald Trump, retired astronaut Sid Gutierrez and golfing great Jack Nicklaus.

They’ve been battling it out for months, but as the campaign nears the final stretch, both sides are bringing in the big guns.

Romney snagged Kid Rock and the Marshall Tucker Band to perform at closing rallies in highly contested Ohio. Not to be outdone, Obama booked Jay-Z and Springsteen for his final rally in that important swing state.

That’s a sure way to pack the house and get the adrenaline flowing on the eve of an election. But will it carry over to the voting booth on Tuesday?

Opinions are all over the place as to how much influence celebrities have on elections, if any.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management concluded that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary was worth about 1 million votes for him. But that was the so-called Oprah Effect, which some concluded is a feat only she could have pulled off.

Anthony Nownes, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, found a celebrity can affect whether a party is viewed as more or less likable, depending on how voters feel about the celebrity.

“The effects were not that huge,” Nownes said of his 2008 study. “But Obama isn’t bringing in Springsteen to win over Republicans. They get celebrities to whip up the base. In a close election like this, it might make a difference.”

But Michael Cobb, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University, said politicians are not like consumer goods. While some might rush out and buy a perfume promoted by Charlize Theron, nobody is eager to find out who she thinks should be president.

“People like celebrities because they’re attractive, they seem cool and they may have good taste, but that does not carry over to make them credible regarding political information. So their endorsements aren’t particularly persuasive,” said Cobb, who has done research on celebrity endorsements mostly with the country’s most fickle demographic — college-age voters.

Sometimes, when celebrities try to become political role models, it can have a negative effect, Nownes and Cobb agreed.

That could explain why concertgoers in New Orleans started walking out and booing Madonna when she endorsed Obama onstage. It’s a safe bet that fans didn’t dish out up to $400 a ticket to hear the Material Girl talk politics.

So just what do celebrities bring to the political table? Cobb said they mostly contribute to a candidate’s coolness factor. But that doesn’t always translate into votes.

Still, why wouldn’t Obama get a kick out of having Beyonce strut around wearing gold hoop earrings that spell out his name? And how cool it must be for the president to have Katy Perry parading around the stage wearing a skintight ballot box dress with a check by his name.

Romney hasn’t done shabbily either. He pulled a major coup when he got Clint Eastwood’s endorsement. He’s also got some rockers on his side, including Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant and Kiss’ Gene Simmons.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

If celebrities don’t bring in the votes, the next best thing is money. No one can raise big bucks like Hollywood celebrities.

Sarah Jessica Parker hosted a dinner party at her New York brownstone, where hotshots like Meryl Streep and designer Michael Kors paid $40,000 a piece to sit at the dinner table with Obama.

Romney raked in $6 million at a Hollywood fundraiser that drew big names like producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Gary Sinise and Patricia Heaton.

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