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Why celeb endorsements matter (Or, is George Clooney more like Jennifer Aniston or Peyton Manning?)

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It might be tempting to write off the Obama campaign’s decision to raffle off a dinner with George Clooney for donors as an attention-grabbing ploy. But perhaps it’s more than that, Perhaps it’s science.

Kris Connor

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George Clooney smiles as he testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Anthony Nownes, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee, has found that celebrities who contribute to political campaigns can make a party more or less likable — depending on what voters think of the celebrities in the first place. In a journal article for American Politics Research, Nownes ran an experiment looking at how voters responded after being informed that Jennifer Aniston has donated heavily to Democrats and quarterback Peyton Manning had donated to Republicans.

“First, when people who dislike Jennifer Aniston are exposed to information about her support for Democrats, they report liking the Democratic Party less. Second, when some people who like Peyton Manning are exposed to information about Manning’s support for Republicans, they report liking the Republican Party more,” he writes.

But this doesn’t mean that political parties should necessarily rush out to scoop up celebrity endorsements and celebrate their donations. Unlike Manning, Aniston failed to have a positive effect on perceptions of the Democratic Party, even among voters who liked her. So the question then is what sort of political celebrity is Clooney? An Aniston or a Manning?

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