Do celebrity endorsements turn into votes on election day?

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s gossipy TV interview earlier this month about getting Instagram-followed and messaged by pop star Rihanna generated a ton of headlines, as did the endorsements from poet Rupi Kaur and more recently Drake producer Noah Shebib.

Actor Ryan Reynolds took to Twitter to let his nearly 15 million followers know he’s “proud of the climate progress made the last four years,” in a not-so-subtle nod to the federal Liberal Party.

Pamela Anderson on the other hand, is lending her star power to the Green Party, appearing in person with candidates and amplifying the Green message across her personal social media platforms. 

And on Wednesday, Barack Obama dropped the A-bomb of endorsements to his 110 million Twitter followers, asking “neighbors to the north” to support Justin Trudeau for another term.

Attempts to leverage the outrageous popularity of a very famous person for political gain is nothing new. 

But the question is: do celebrity endorsements actually generate more votes come election day?

Simon Fraser University communications professor Perter Chow-White says the answer is yes, but with the addendum that not all celebrity endorsements are created equal.  

“Barack Obama backing Trudeau, that’s a game changer,” said Chow-White. “He’s a highly respected international person, known for diplomacy and a very well-respected president — things that people are kind of nostalgic for right now.”

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had celebrities lining up to support them in the last U.S. presidential election.

Clinton boasted the likes of LeBron James, Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce and Snoop Dogg. Trump countered with Kirstie Alley, Tom Brady, Dennis Rodman, Kid Rock and Hulk Hogan. 

Chow-White says elections are about the “politics of attention,” something that expresses itself differently in Canada given the lack of celebrity culture here relative to the United States.

A celebrity endorsement can help attract a voter to a candidate they know little about says Chow-White. But he also believes there is a limit to their influence, especially those in the entertainment world, regardless of their army of social media followers. 

“Ryan Reynolds, he’s very funny and an actor. Rihanna is a singer … and I’m sure they’re very smart and thoughtful people,” said Chow-White. “But how many followers translate to voters? You have to look at who votes — it’s well known that youthful voters … vote the least out of everybody.”

Conversely, he sees Obama’s endorsement reaching an audience that is mostly receptive and who view him as a paragon of credibility. 

“The right person, talking about the right thing in the right space,” said Chow-White.

The Canadian federal election is Monday, Oct. 21.