Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Why didn't celebrity endorsement work for Clinton?

2016 has been a memorable year across the globe, from Brexit to Protest against South Korean President, and from the Turkish coup d'état attempt to the Nice attack. Somehow Trump became the President of the US by winning 278 electoral votes, but how come Hilary Clinton did not win the election despite having so many celebrity endorsements?

Figure 1. Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, ex-competitor Bernie Sanders, Katy Perry supporting Hilary Clinton.

Figure 2. Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, George Clooney supporting Hilary Clinton.

Figure 3. Kendall Jenner, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Oprah supporting Hilary Clinton.

As shown above, Hilary Clinton was able to get support from both celebrities and famous politicians. Research indicates that celebrity endorsements have positive and effective impact on preference from the audience (Dean and Biswas, 2001; Silvera, & Austad, 2004), and celebrities are viewed as highly trustworthy, believable, and persuasive in terms of endorsing the targets (Freiden, 1984). Curiously, with all the celebrity supporting Clinton, why didn’t she win? Well, the reason is partly due to the 'Just-Plain-Folks' propaganda and peripheral route in the elaboration likelihood model.

1.     'Just-Plain-Folks' propaganda

Politicians often act as plain folks rather than a posh and wealthy congressman, in order to communicate the message of ‘I am just like you and I understand you’ across to the audience that they want the votes from. When presidential candidates act ordinarily, down-to-earth and participate in normal activities, it gives the voters a sense of trust and comfort, believing that the candidate and the voters share common grounds and they therefore should agree with the candidate.

People vote for political candidates that they feel empathic towards (McCue & Gopoian, 2000), and people are more likely to show empathic concerns and helping behaviour to someone who they believe are similar to them (Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley & Birch, 1981). In the experiment, when the participants are told that the sufferer had similarities in attitudes, they chose to offer help and replace the confederate that was given electric shocks, even in situations where participants could easily leave without being irritated and stressed by observing the sufferer’s painful appearance. If people felt that they are similar to Clinton, they would have been more empathic towards her, and hence potentially helped her by voting for Clinton in the election.

Figure 4. Results from Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley & Birch (1981).

However, seeing celebrities posting pictures with Hilary Clinton on multiple social media sites, voters tend to gain the impression that Hilary Clinton is another one of those wealthy politicians instead of a more practical plain folk comparable to voters, therefore the empathy/similarity votes that could’ve belonged to Clinton went to Trump (or maybe not).

2.     Elaboration likelihood model plays a big part in the election

Campaigns fundamentally change voters’ decisions and propaganda techniques prime people’s view on candidates (Iyengar & Simon, 2000; Druckman, 2004). To determine candidate liking and vote choice, voters' perceptions of character and personal attributes have large impact on the vote (Aylor, 1999). Also, voters evaluate presidential candidates on the basis of a set of general criteria, which they use to judge the candidates’ personal attributes before voting (Miller et al., 1986). Stokes (1966) argued that personality best explains for shifts in the vote from one presidential election to the next, which is an example of voters utilizing peripheral route of persuasion in the elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986)When voters go down the peripheral route of persuasion, they use cues such as characteristics and attractiveness of the candidate to make the voting decision, and decisions are generally unrelated to the logics of the presidential speech or partisan quality. 

Figure 5. Results from Aylor (1999).

 Figure 6. Two distinct routes in the Elaboration Likelihood Model.

Surprisingly, research has shown that highly educated individuals are more prone to use the peripheral route by focusing more on personal attributes of the candidate and using personality categories rather than the candidate quality to make the decision, compared to less educated individuals (Glass, 1985; Miller et al., 1986). The reason might be because educated individuals view political elections sceptically, as policy making depends not only on the president. Hence, educated individuals would pay more attention to the candidates' personal attributes as they give a true and clear picture of the potential president.

Figure 7. Results from Glass (1985).

Therefore, Trump’s very ‘strong’ personality attracts voters’ attention, and those who were using the peripheral route of persuasion would ignore the candidate quality of Trump, despite some of his messages and opinions on multiple issues were disrespectful and outrageous. In other words, if voters were attracted by Trump's personal attributes and his unique enthusiasm, they would have forgotten about Clinton and supported Trump instead, and it seems like they have.

Although Hilary Clinton did a good job getting support from all of her celebrity friends, these factors might have prevented her from becoming the president. Next time she runs for presidency, it is best to remind her of taking a Behaviour Change course before any campaign begins.

Sijia Zhou (Katie)


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