What are celebrities risking when they speak up about their political view? According to our research, not much when it comes to Twitter engagement; our analysis of 220,000 tweets found that the followers of opinionated celebrities do not withhold engagement from and may even engage more with political tweets.
Zilinsky, Jan, Cristian Vaccari, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Don’t Republicans Tweet Too? Using Twitter to Assess the Consequences of Political Endorsements by Celebrities.” Perspectives on Politics 18, no.1 (2020): 144-60. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1537592719002603
Sep 06, 2019
Area of Study
Michael Jordan supposedly justified his decision to stay out of politics by noting that Republicans buy sneakers too. In the social media era, the name of the game for celebrities is engagement with fans. So why then do celebrities risk talking about politics on social media, which is likely to antagonize a portion of their fan base? With this question in mind, we analyze approximately 220,000 tweets from 83 celebrities who chose to endorse a presidential candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign to assess whether there is a cost — defined in terms of engagement on Twitter — for celebrities who discuss presidential candidates. We also examine whether celebrities behave similarly to other campaign surrogates in being more likely to take on the “attack dog” role by going negative more often than going positive. More specifically, we document how often celebrities of distinct political preferences tweet about Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, and we show that followers of opinionated celebrities do not withhold engagement when entertainers become politically mobilized and do indeed often go negative. Interestingly, in some cases political content from celebrities actually turns out to be more popular than typical lifestyle tweets.
In the social media era, many celebrities are vocal about their political views. They are still prepared to discuss politics knowing that not all their fans — and potential customers — will agree with their political stances. In the lead up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump was able to mobilize his candidacy through his celebrity standing and now it seems that other celebrities are also using their social status to take a stance on politics. Although celebrities have not become all-around political activists, some can be viewed as amateur pundits — both cheerleading and criticizing what they see politicians doing. But what do celebrities risk by talking about politics and potentially alienating their fans?
To answer this question, we analyze 220,000 tweets from 83 celebrities who chose to endorse a presidential candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign and assess whether there is a cost for celebrities who discuss political candidates.
We show that followers of opinionated celebrities do not withhold engagement when celebrities become politically-mobilized. In some cases, political content from celebrities was more popular than lifestyle tweets. Given celebrities’ social position, their politicized tweets often reach those that are otherwise uninterested in politics. This allows more people to see their content because they’re not in the political arena themselves. Overall, the cost of taking a stance on politics as a celebrity is relatively low in terms of Twitter engagement.