A sprinkle of stardust to keep Britain in the EU

If celebrity endorsements are what counts, those wanting Britain to stay in the EU will have an easy victory in this month's referendum.  

Consumer-friendly actors, pop stars, writers and artists have flocked to the Remain camp.

Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, history writer Hilary Mantel, film director Steve McQueen and fashion icon Vivienne Westwood have joined over 280 other A-listers hitting the campaign trail for the stayers.  

In the big-name stakes, the Leave camp is overwhelmed. Only Roger Daltry, lead singer with 1960s band The Who, and veteran Hollywood actor Michael Caine are with Leave.

But is there any evidence that celebrity endorsements really work when it comes to voting. Or is it a turn-off when the rich and famous step out of character and become politicians themselves?

Hobbit film-trilogy star Martin Freeman, Cumberbatch's Sherlock co-star, is not among the Creative Industries Federation list of the 96 per cent of its members signing a letter on the Remain website.

In the lead up to last year's general election, Freeman defied those who think millionaire film stars should stay out of politics. He appeared in Labour Party television broadcasts.

Former Dr Who star David Tennant, who has also fronted Labour Party propaganda, is another no-show in the federation's 282-member cast list.

Labour convincingly lost the last election despite superstar endorsements that included a televised chat between then leader Ed Miliband and popular loud-mouthed comedian Russell Brand.

Also conspicuously absent from the federation's list is former James Bond persona Sean Connery. The 85-year-old Edinburgh-born actor, who has helped fund the Scottish National Party that seeks independence from Britain but is keen for Britain to stay in the EU, has been accused of meddling in the politics of a country he left almost half a century ago.

Scottish Labour Party politician Karen Gillon said she was unhappy with his type of activism. "Perhaps we should have actors who are working and are resident in Scotland rather than an actor who lives in Los Angeles," she told a Scottish newspaper.

Susan Douglas, a former police detective, will be voting to leave the EU. She thinks that celebrity endorsements from the "luvvies" might be doing the Remain camp harm because people see them as self-serving. "The luvvies are probably feathering their own nests," she said.

Independent financial adviser Andrew Morrell, who is committed to Britain staying in the EU, also ignores blandishments from people in the entertainment industry.

"No, I'm not influenced by celebrities at all," the former banker said. "Although I am influenced by all the distinguished economists and respected financial institutions like the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) and the Treasury that have warned of the damage to our economy if we leave."

The views of Douglas and Morrell bear out research showing celebrity endorsements work best with voters who are not much interested in politics.

In a paper for the European Journal of Management, a trio from Britain's University of Bath - Ekant Veer, Ilda Becirovic and Brett Martin - reported that the politically savvy are unlikely to be swayed by the views of celebrities but that those who are less engaged might be.

"If political parties are to target those citizens that don't actively engage with politics, then the use of celebrity endorsements would make a significant impact, given the results of this research," the paper declared.

But those not interested in politics are the least likely to turn up to vote in the coming referendum. The researchers said that "it's the voting population that don't engage with politics that are most susceptible to the use of celebrity endorsements and in times where this population is small, such as in the 1980s, the effect shown is minimal."

The bigger the turnout, the bigger the celebrity endorsement effect.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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