Unlike '08, Celebrities Are Lukewarm About Endorsing Presidential Candidates in 2012

High-energy celebrity endorsements may be just what the party elders ordered.

February 29, 2012, 4:02 PM

Feb. 29, 2012 — -- At a time when Republican voters seem less-than-enthused about their presidential options, it may be time for the candidates to call in some reinforcements -- celebrity reinforcements, that is.

Some high-profile, high-energy rock stars and movie stars that could fill stadiums with riled-up fans (a.k.a. voters), fill fundraisers with wealthy friends (a.k.a. donors) and fill the Internet with supportive ads (a.k.a. viral YouTube videos) may be just with the party elders ordered.

But the Hollywood divas and country music cowboys that went all-in for presidential candidates in 2008 are barely throwing a bone to the men vying for White House this year.

Find out which celebrities have made endorsements HERE.

From Kid Rock to Kelly Clarkson, celebrities are making only half-hearted shows of support, stopping short of full-fledged endorsements.

While Kid Rock agreed to perform a one-song concert for Mitt Romney fans on Monday, the rocker never actually endorsed the GOP candidate, despite Romney's official campaign song being Kid Rock's "Born Free."

Kelly Clarkson showed her support for Ron Paul via Twitter, but even in 140 characters the pop star only offered a semi-endorsement.

"I love Ron Paul," Clarkson tweeted to her 1.1 million followers. "If he wins the nomination for the Republican Party in 2012, he's got my vote. Too bad he probably won't."

After an apparent backlash from her Twitter fans over the controversial newsletters Paul distributed in the past, Clarkson ended up apologizing for expressing her support, saying she does "not support racism."

"Possibly why celebrities aren't jumping on anyone's bandwagon right now is that they don't like Santorum and they're lukewarm about Romney," said Susan K. Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has studied the effect celebrities have on public opinion. "There's just that sense that, 'These aren't people I identify with and neither do my fans.'"

That enthusiasm gap, which abounds in the general public as well as in the celebrity sphere, may be exactly why candidates should be looking to Hollywood and Nashville for co-campaigners, Whitbourne said.

"Why are we so obsessed with the celebrities? Because the public attention is looking for people to focus on and, right now, politicians aren't hot and sexy," Whitbourne said. "So if you're going to fire up some excitement, calling out the people who the public can relate to should be a big help."

But having a Hollywood hotshot riding along in the campaign bus is still not likely to lure voters away from other less-endorsed candidates.

David Jackson, an associate political science professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said the studies he has conducted to test the influence celebrity endorsements have on young voters show that such support can reinforce a politician's image, but rarely change it.

"It's really difficult for a celebrity to transfer [their] coolness to a candidate because the candidate already has an established image," said Jackson, who researched the effects of celebrity endorsements for his book, "Entertainment and Politics: The Influence of Pop Culture in Young Adult Political Socialization."

Having a hip celeb on the stump stage could actually backfire for candidates looking to up their cool factor.

"Often, what ends up happening is the candidate ends up looking more awkward with the celebrity next to them," Jackson said. "It draws an even sharper image of the candidates' stiffness or whatever with the celebrity being there."

To Romney's credit, his stage-sharing with Kid Rock on Monday might have been awkward because the rock star never actually endorsed him, but Romney managed not come off stiffer than unusual next to the laid-back rocker, Jackson said.

"He played off the fact that he's not cool, that he's a problem solver," Jackson said. "People sometimes like geeks and he's got to play to the strengths he's going for."

Romney's lack of passionate celebrity endorsers is not entirely surprising because most of Hollywood's big hitters tend to skew Democratic. But even President Obama is finding some unconvinced endorsers among his 2008 club of supportive superstars.

Matt Damon spoke at rallies, attended fundraisers and appeared in videos supporting Obama's 2008 campaign, but has publically criticized the president this election cycle.

"You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better," Damon told Elle Magazine in December. "People are literally without any focus or leadership, just wandering out into the streets to yell right now because they are so pissed off."

But will Damon switch his support to a Republican challenger?

"Good God, no!," he told the Independent in March.

Obama is already hitting Hollywood Boulevard to try and win back the support of the deep-pocketed, highly enthusiastic California crowd. He took a three-day fundraising swing through the West Coast earlier this month, schmoozing with the likes of Jack Black and Will Ferrell.

"He has to work to rebuild the enthusiasm he had in '08," Jackson said. "And I don't doubt one bit that the celebrity endorsements and the deployment of that celebrity army out in the field will help."

Jackson said that in a close election, that star power "could make a difference," especially because those big names tend to draw out young voters.

"Romney just isn't going to have that," Jackson said. "He's not going to have that enthusiasm from the youth."

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