Politically, the United States may be a narrowly divided nation – but when it comes to celebrity endorsements, it’s not even close.
With polls showing the presidential race has tightened into a dead heat, the Obama campaign and pro-Obama advocacy groups are playing the star-power card, unleashing a virtual tidal wave of Hollywood celebrities who are cutting ads, making appearances on the trail, and otherwise urging folks to turn out in support of the president.
There’s this week’s overt appeal to women, with Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria, and Kerry Washington attacking Mitt Romney’s position on abortion in a MoveOn.org ad (“I want to talk to you about women – and about Mitt Romney”).
There’s America’s own voice-of-God (otherwise known as Morgan Freeman) lending the narration to a new Obama ad airing in swing states.
There’s the video from Rosie Perez, commenting on Mr. Romney’s remark that he’d be better off if only he were Latino (“Actually….”). That one was produced by two pro-Obama "super PACS," one of which also recently turned out a satiric video by Samuel L. Jackson (“Wake the [word that rhymes with duck] up”).
Big-time musicians are out there pitching, too. Jay-Z has released a new video about “the power of our vote,” saying Mr. Obama “made it mean something for the first time for a lot of people.” Bruce Springsteen is campaigning for Obama in Ohio and Iowa, and last week Katy Perry and Jon Bon Jovi performed on behalf of the Obama campaign in Los Angeles.
By contrast, whom does the Romney campaign have in its corner? Let’s see: There’s Kid Rock, who recently appeared with veep nominee Paul Ryan in Michigan. John Elway endorsed Romney not too long ago in Denver. And, of course, there’s Clint Eastwood – but that’s just rubbing it in.
All this Hollywood love for Obama isn’t new, of course. All campaign long we’ve been hearing about presidential fundraisers with the likes of George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker. But right now there’s something of a celebrity full court press going on.
Which raises an obvious question: Does any of this really help?
Sure, America is a celebrity-obsessed culture, but that doesn't mean people want those celebrities telling them how to vote. To many, it can seem a bit high-handed, or condescending.
And there's evidence it can backfire: A study by the University of Tennessee found that voters who didn’t like certain celebrities tended to feel less positive about the candidates those celebrities were endorsing. It also found those sentiments can work in the reverse, with a celebrity endorsement causing voters of the opposite political persuasion to conclude they no longer like the celebrity.
Even if it doesn’t wind up turning people off, it’s not clear that it actually drives up turnout. This isn’t the first time Springsteen has hit the trail on behalf of a candidate – he did it for Obama in 2008 (when Obama hardly needed it). But he also made appearances back in 2004 for John Kerry. Senator Kerry wound up coming pretty close in Ohio, where Springsteen campaigned heavily in the final weeks. And who knows, perhaps there was a "Springsteen effect" that drove some votes his way. But we suspect it didn't change too many voters' minds. And in the end, it wasn't enough.