This week, Tea Party rock star and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin endorsed GOP front runner Donald Trump, boosting his profile among conservatives. Palin’s stamp of approval is more than just a stump speech on the campaign trail; it sends a strong message to the Republican Party’s electorate.
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“The endorsement helps voters sort out their perceptions of the ideology of the candidates,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Professor Jamieson, who has studied and authored books on media and politics, says an endorsement does not create a uniform effect but instead it has an impact among voters who “value the person who is endorsing, who also shares their values and is trustworthy.”
Case in point, Palin’s Trump endorsement shows Tea Party voters that the billionaire businessman is a reliable supporter of their values.
“An ideological cue is what Sarah Palin is providing. It is very difficult to know where Trump is ideologically and what Palin certifies to voters is that they don’t need to worry about securing additional information they can trust, based on her certification, that Trump is ideologically aligned with them,” said Jamieson.
She says Palin choosing to support Donald Trump over Ted Cruz could have negative effects on the Texas senator’s chances in securing a specific constituency at the polls.
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“It is damaging to Ted Cruz and it’s one of the reasons that he is attacking Trump with ‘New York values,’ which tells the Tea Party voters ‘he [Trump] is not one of us. He doesn’t share our values,’ And Sarah Palin’s support says to those same voters’ don’t worry about that, I know him [Trump] well. You can trust our values’,” said Jamieson.
Historically, endorsements in primaries only work when there is the absence of voter information. In 2008, when the late Senator Edward Kennedy endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama for president, it signified to voters that Obama was to the left of Hillary Clinton, positioning Obama to gain more support from liberal voters.
“Obama virtually had no voting record so having the liberal lion of the senate, Ted Kennedy, certify Obama was powerful because there wasn’t very much info available to determine where Obama was ideologically,” said Jamieson. “He also helped certify Obama on the healthcare issue because the two candidates – Clinton and Obama -- had a serious issue difference. Each was arguing ‘my plan is better.’ Kennedy, known for his advocacy of healthcare reform, could help certify Obama on healthcare.”
She says Trump has a similar problem to Obama since he is a businessman with no voting record for constituents to judge his ideology by. On the contrast, endorsements have very little impact on 2016 Democratic candidates: Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders carry a long voting history so there is less ambiguity where they stand on the issues.
Political heavy hitters are not the only ones using their stature in the 2016 race. Celebrities are also showing support for their favorite candidates through ads, performances and social media praise. On Thursday, GOP candidate Marco Rubio released an ad featuring the support of “Pawn Stars” reality star, Rick Harrison.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has proclaimed his support for Donald Trump as did Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, actor Will Ferrell endorsed Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton is no stranger to big name backers. In October, pop senation Katy Perry performed at Clinton’s Iowa campaign rally. Other stars, like actress Kerry Washington, who stumped for President Obama in 2012, said she would hit the campaign trail for Hillary. And basketball icon Magic Johnson took to Twitter with his support:
“I feel @HillaryClinton will be a great President for the American people and she will make sure that everyone has a voice.”
I feel @HillaryClinton will be a great President for the American people and she will make sure that everyone has a voice!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 12, 2015
Jamieson says celebrity endorsements have been around a long time and can work best if the person backing the presidential contender shares a cause essentially showing a similar ideology.
“We shouldn’t paint endorsements with a broad brush. They all work differently and only work when you believe the person that you are endorsing is someone you can trust and who can give you information that you otherwise don’t have that could help shape your opinion.”
The anti-endorsement can also play a role in a candidate’s campaign. A day after Palin announced she is backing The Donald, a coalition called the #StopHateDumpTrump was formed.
Kerry Washington, Rosie O’Donnell, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Michael Moore, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are among the celebrities lending their names to the movement.
According to a statement on the #StopHateDumpTrump’s website, the mission of the group is “to call out Donald Trump for his hatred, misogyny, Islamaphobia, and racism and to give platform for the voices of the silent majority of Americas who do not and will not stand for it.”
The campaign is asking for online signatures to “inspire a collective awakening amongst Americans to speak out, create and join initiatives that bring attention to the many who reject Trump’s vision for the country.” So far the campaign has collected more than 13,000 signatures and is growing.