Who is lending their star power to Biden and can celebs determine votes?

Who is lending their star power to Biden and can celebs determine votes?

When Robert De Niro showed up outside a Manhattan courthouse to decry Donald Trump as his New York hush money trial was winding down, it sparked a life-imitates-art screaming match with a nearby group of the former president’s supporters.

“You are gangsters!” shouted De Niro, who starred in Goodfellas and won an Oscar for The Godfather Part II. The Trump backers responded with obscenities.

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De Niro seems to have taken on an increasingly prominent role in Biden’s campaign. Before his confrontation with the Trump supporters, the actor held a press conference calling the former president a “clown.»

This has cost him though, as De Niro was stripped of a prestigious leadership award after his fiery speech. Indeed, the actor was due to attend the National Association of Broadcasters Leadership Foundation’s Celebration of Service to America Awards, where he was expected to receive their highest honour — the 2024 Service of Leadership Award in recognition of his charitable work and public service. However, his invite was rescinded, as De Niro’s «recent high-profile activities will create a distraction from the philanthropic work that we were hoping to recognize,» stated the organisation.

Celebrities lending their star power to politics is nothing new, but the upcoming US November election is not your average one, as it feels some sort of warped flashback to 2020, which already had Joe Biden face off against Donald Trump. And with leading campaign issues centring around abortion, immigration, healthcare, border security, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change and the very concept of democracy, there’s more than enough for celebrities to energize their fans to vote.

Specifically to vote for Biden and to entice donors to pony up for his reelection effort. 

Julia Roberts, Barack Obama, George Clooney and Jimmy Kimmel teaming up for Biden fundraiser in LAAP Photo

This weekend (Saturday 15 June), A-listers George Clooney and Julia Roberts will team up with former President Barack Obama at a Biden fundraiser in Los Angeles, where the three will be interviewed by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Roberts and Kimmel have already begun soliciting donations via text for Biden, who is skipping a weekend peace conference on Ukraine being held in Switzerland to attend the event. 

Elsewhere, director Steven Spielberg is involved in storytelling efforts for the Democratic National Convention in August, while the likes of Barbra Streisand, Lenny Kravitz and James Taylor have all performed for Biden donors. 

Others who’ve sent fundraising emails, organized events or otherwise lent their support include The White Lotus’ Connie Britton, singer-songwriter Carole King, Bridgerton creator Shona Rhimes, and Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who turned up in the White House briefing room last month to personally praise the president.

Can celebrity supporters determine votes?

Lexi UnderwoodMark Von Holden/Invision/AP

Probably not, but they are seen as having the ability to inject excitement that helps energize supporters.

Lexi Underwood, whose credits include the streaming series “Little Fires Everywhere,” calls acting a “contact sport” that allows her to interact with the public and makes her determined to use her influence responsibly. She has participated in a recent virtual ”Students for Biden” event and traveled to Nevada to appear at campaign events focused on women’s health issues.

“I’m very fortunate to have certain eyes on me,» said Underwood. «I feel really responsible to make sure that what I put out there, either people are being informed on things that they weren’t previously informed on, or that I’m motivating them to get out there and vote.”

Biden’s campaign says its chief focus is finding authentic and trusted messengers who can promote the president’s policy achievements and raise the alarm about GOP “extremism,» and that means deploying everyday supporters as well as famous ones.

What about Trump’s celebrity supporters?

Trump has his own list of celebrity endorsers, which includes musicians Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, UFC CEO Dana White, media personality Caitlyn Jenner and actors Dennis Quaid and Jon Voight, as well as comedian Roseanne Barr. 

But the Trump campaign seem to be lambasting celebrity endorsement at times. Karoline Leavitt, assistant press secretary in the Trump administration, said: “The only people in America who support Joe Biden’s failing campaign are elitist Hollywood celebrities,» adding that Trump “speaks for the forgotten men and women of this country.” 

Make of that last statement what you will.  

David Schmid, an English professor at the University of Buffalo who studies popular culture, said celebrities can influence fans’ aspirations and what they consume. But their influence “over peoples’ voting habits has been really exaggerated,» he said.

The Taylor Swift effect

Taylor Swift Jane Barlow/PA via AP

Schmid said one celebrity with outsized political influence might be Taylor Swift. She endorsed Biden in 2020 and is being openly courted by the campaign this time on social media, and even in a press release that saluted her latest album. 

Her endorsement could mean a lot as when Taylor speaks, her fans listen. 

For instance, in September last year, the singer posted a short message on Instagram encouraging her 272 million followers to register to vote. Afterward, the website she directed her fans to — the nonpartisan nonprofit — reported a 1,226% jump in participation in the hour after the post. The number of 18-year-olds registered was more than double 2022’s figures.

The backing of someone like Swift could prove instrumental for Democrats, and the Conservatives know it, having gone into full meltdown mode at the beginning of the year regarding the Superbowl.

However, Schmid said that even someone as famous as Swift “knows things are polarizing and they don’t want to take major risks” on candidates and contentious issues. 

But maybe Trump might push her over the edge once more, as Swift went on to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in 2020, taking aim at Trump in the wake of the George Floyd protests that same year.   

“After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November,” she tweeted at Trump. 

She has yet to comment on Trump’s views on her, shared in the forthcoming book “Apprentice in Wonderland: How Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Took America Through The Looking Glass”, by Variety co-editor-in-chief Ramin Setoodeh. 

In it, Trump states: “I think she’s beautiful — very beautiful! I find her very beautiful. I think she’s liberal. She probably doesn’t like Trump. I hear she’s very talented. I think she’s very beautiful, actually — unusually beautiful!”  He also adds: “She is liberal, or is that just an act? She’s legitimately liberal? It’s not an act? It surprises me that a country star can be successful being liberal.”

Swift has yet to make an endorsement for the upcoming 2024 election, but Joe Biden will have to tread a fine line between embracing celebrity support and cultivate the image of someone in tune with ordinary people. Because while celebs have clout, they can often seem out of touch with people’s day-to-day concerns and fears.

Still, no one is arguing that Swift’s support would be a huge get for Biden. Whether it gets him out of the woods is another matter…  


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