Scottish Election 2021: How celebrity endorsements can backfire on political parties – Steve Cardownie

As the election campaign in Scotland gathers pace, political parties will be delighted to attract political endorsements from major figures from the world of entertainment and sport.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 4:45 pm
Craig and Charlie Reid, aka The Proclaimers, have publicly backed the Alba Party (Picture: Neil Doig)

So far The Proclaimers have come out in support of The Alba Party and we have already know that Janey Godley, the stand-up comedian, is backing the SNP, while JK Rowling has consistently supported the Labour Party.

Many other celebrities have not been slow to nail their political colours to the mast in the hope that their endorsement will boost the popularity of their chosen party or individual with a commensurate increase in votes to follow. But how much influence do they actually exert?

A YouGov poll in late 2018 found that 52 per cent of UK voters oppose celebrity involvement in political issues with only nine per cent declaring support. A further 33 per cent didn’t feel strongly either way and the remaining five per cent answered “don’t know”.

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Older people are more hostile to celebrities getting involved in politics with more than 68 per cent opposing such moves while only 33 per cent of 18-24 year-olds feel the same way and 26 per cent are actually supportive of famous figures taking a political stand.

YouGov also identified that 63 per cent of those polled felt that celebrity endorsements made no difference to their views and 25 per cent said that they have a negative effect, with only five per cent saying there was a positive one. Indeed family and friends are twice as likely to influence voters intentions as celebrity endorsements.

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These views are by no means confined to voters in the UK as a survey in the USA by Hill-HarrisX in 2019 reported that 65 per cent of respondents said political endorsements from Hollywood celebrities had no bearing on their voting intentions with 24 per cent saying that such endorsements would make them less likely to vote for the celebrity’s preferred candidate and only 11 per cent saying it would make them more likely to vote for that candidate.

JK Rowling is a prominent Labour party supporter (Picture: Justin Tallis/Getty Images)

Such polls seem to indicate that voters are all too well aware that being a celebrity does not make someone an expert on political or social issues and that they are not likely to follow their recommendations just because they like their films or music.

Political parties, recognising the reality of the low or counter-productive influence of celebrities, concentrate their energies developing and promoting policy issues that resonate with the electorate through the use of polls, social media and focus groups rather than pursuing the nod of approval from the latest Bafta winner or chart topper.

The ability to deliver party manifestos and realise policy goals is, of course, of crucial importance but that can only be realised if political power is gained and control of the Scottish Parliament is achieved.

Opinion polls indicate there is a clear front-runner, which will come as no surprise, least of all to parties whose internal polling has reached the same conclusion and no amount of celebrity support will change matters.

Janey Godley listens as Nicola Sturgeon addresses a rally in George Square (Picture: John Devlin)

Celebrity endorsement is not a major component of a party’s campaign however and although it has been welcomed in the past and guarantees media attention for a day or two, it might be less than likely to endear itself to the electorate. Buyer beware.

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