The Stars Are Out. Will The Voters Be?

More than the uncertain economy and security threats will drive young voters to the polls this November. A study by Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest confirms the anecdotal evidence: Celebrities on the campaign trail are among the strongest influences.

“Political parties should look at young voters much like marketers do,” said Mary-Ellen Vincent, svp and director of insights and accountability at MediaVest. The New York agency counts Kraft, Coca-Cola and MasterFoods among its clients that target 18-24-year-olds, who exercise an estimated $890 million of annual buying power. “If political parties can increase their share of that important segment, [they] will have lifetime customers,” Vincent said.

Celebrity-backed endeavors such as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ Citizen Change and MTV’s Rock the Vote may reverse a young-voter downswing. In 1992, 10.4 million 18-24s voted, per the U.S. Census Bureau. Only 8.6 million voted in 2000. According to MediaVest, “while only 32 percent of 18-24s voted in 2000, our poll shows [that] 66 percent have intentions to vote in 2004.”

“Celebrities do reach young voters,” said Don Sipple, founder of Sipple Strategic Communications in Santa Barbara, Calif., which helped Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush win governor’s races. But he warned: “They say they’ll vote. For all the efforts of MTV, since ’92, it has not panned out.”

“Celebrities are our modern heroes, good or bad,” said Howard Benenson, president of independent Benenson Janson in Studio City, Calif., which does celeb-endorsed work for Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan young-voter initiative.

MediaVest’s survey was based on 1,000 telephone interviews.