Celebrities are America’s new politicians

Running candidacies for governor, obtaining presidential approvals, founding schools: celebrities are increasingly involved in American public and political life.

Why is this important: As we have pointed out, politics is no longer the purview of career politicians, as companies and their CEOs use all their weight to influence policies. Now movie stars, famous musicians and professional athletes are also using their influence in politics.

  • “You could write the same book about celebrity in politics that you could write about business in politics,” says David Jackson, professor of political science at Bowling Green State University.

What is happening: While we’ve seen famous presidents – most notably Ronald Reagan – they held lower elected positions before making their way to the White House. Donald Trump’s victory represented a paradigm shift, says Jackson: “He went straight from the New York tabloids to the presidency, with no previous experience.”

  • “It certainly set a precedent for a new path to the presidency which we have yet to see if others will follow,” he said.

Celebrities are running for office at all levels – and some have a real hit, polls say.

According to a recent poll by the consumer research platform Piplsay, 63% of Americans believe Hollywood stars can make good politicians “with the right attitude and the right support staff.”

  • Actor Matthew McConaughey has said he’s “measuring” a run for governor of Texas. And a recent Dallas Morning News / University of Texas at Tyler poll put him ahead of incumbent Governor Greg Abbott.
  • Former Olympian and Caitlyn Jenner recently ran for Governor of California.
  • In the Piplsay poll, 58% said they would support Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a presidential candidate. 30% said they would like to see Angelina Jolie run for the top job, and 22% said Tom Hanks.

Stars also participate in public life in other ways.

The big picture: The popularity of celebrities in politics is part of a larger trend of distrust of government, says Jackson of Bowling Green.

  • The general belief that many Americans have is that people who are not career politicians are somehow more qualified and less tainted than those who have spent their careers in politics, ”he says.
  • And celebrities have the advantage of huge notoriety, while being Washington underdogs.

But, but, but: This very lack of experience has led political figures to fail in the past, reports Alex Samuels of FiveThirtyEight.

The bottom line: While celebrity politicians of the past may have been anomalies, famous people today are emboldened by their star power in the age of social media and encouraged by the success of their predecessors. Look for their presence to keep increasing.

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