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Hollywood takes political sides

Nov. 2, 2004

By MEGHAN MERCHANT, reporter

Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced President George W. Bush to a crowd of Ohio Republicans Friday.

Ben Affleck accompanied Sen. John Kerry on the campaign trail this summer.

Susan Sarandon has advocated her support for Kerry while Angie Harmon publicly backs Bush.

Celebrities have been actively supporting political candidates and encouraging Americans to vote in this year's presidential election, through national campaigns like MTV's Rock the Vote, Citizen Change or by giving benefit concerts and performances. Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake and Samuel L. Jackson are just a few of the celebrities promoting Rock the Vote, which has relied greatly on star power to register young voters.

A recent study by MediaVest USA found that 40 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 are influenced by celebrity endorsements. While only 32 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2000 presidential election, the poll found that 66 percent intend to vote in this year's election.

Dr. David Nichols, associate professor in Baylor's Interdisciplinary Core program, said it's a long-standing practice for presidential candidates to invoke the efforts of celebrities in their campaigns, although he's not sure it has much effect in the long run.

"Candidates have always liked to appear with celebrities," Nichols said. "It's a way of connecting with people."

Nichols said he has noticed some more visible efforts by celebrities to promote political awareness this year than in past elections. He cited examples such as Bruce Springsteen's benefit concerts on behalf of Kerry and the use of celebrity politicians such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani to promote Bush.

MediaVest's poll found the use of star power to earn votes to work in favor of the Democratic Party.

"The impact of celebrities on voting preferences appears to be a Democrat phenomenon," Laura Desmond, CEO of MediaVest, said. "One-third of all people who intend to vote Democrat agree that they have been influenced by pro-voting campaigns such as Citizen Change and Rock the Vote, while a whopping two-thirds of Republicans strongly disagree that they have been influenced by these campaigns."

But not all celebrities agree with the strategy of using their star status to promote political views. At a press conference in Mexico City promoting his most recent movie, Tom Cruise refused to reveal his candidate of choice, saying "I'm not going to comment publicly who I'm going to vote for."

However, Cruise also stated that he supported performers lobbying for their favorite candidate.

"It's their right and I respect that," Cruise said. "But I do believe and I encourage people to go out and study the issues -- get beyond the propaganda."

Megan Rhinehart, an Atlanta sophomore, said she registered to vote in the Bill Daniel Student Center this semester with one of the voter registration groups set up in the foyer. She said her vote was influenced by the candidates' stances on issues but does think celebrities have some sway on citizens' political views.

"I think that they do [have the right to lobby for candidates]," Rhinehart said. "But I don't necessarily think they're a valid resource for people to use."

"I think people like Michael Moore have had a lot of influence," she added.

Peter Becnel, a League City freshman, also agreed that stars have some power on voter decisions. "When people don't know what they want to do with their vote, sometimes they're influenced by the wrong source," he said.