Guide to Celebrity Endorsements for the 2020 Election Candidates, Then and Now
Celebrities and politics have always been a weird business: On the one hand, you have followers who cheer when their favorite celebrity posts an “#IVoted” selfie, praising them for lending their voices and platforms to political discourse. On the other hand is the “stick to sports” crowd, which believes that celebrities should refrain from political commentary and let candidates and politicians be the ones to debate kitchen table issues like healthcare and taxes.
But regardless of personal opinion about what a celebrity should or shouldn't say, their endorsements have been proven to make a difference. According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Political Marketing, well-liked celebrities can influence people’s thoughts on political issues, while the endorsements of “unliked celebrities” can actually backfire for candidates. A 2016 piece by Nives Zubcevic-Basic, Master of Marketing at Swinburne University of Technology, stated that factors like credibility (if a celebrity has a reputation for political activism, you might be more inclined to trust them) and audience (according to the piece, those who are less politically engaged are more likely to vote for a party endorsed by a celebrity) are both significant factors in the effectiveness of celebrity endorsements.
Some industry experts doubt the strength of the correlation between a celebrity's endorsement and a candidate's success (studies have shown that friends and family members, as well as newspapers, have a more significant impact on an individual's voting behavior), however, it is widely acknowledged that celebrity endorsements can bring a candidate publicity they would not have had otherwise.
Though the rise of social media has altered the omnipresence of celebrities in our culture, political endorsements are not new. Before Beyoncé, Oprah, Eva Longoria, and George Clooney endorsed or campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, back in the ‘40s, Frank Sinatra campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt, and he’d later publicly support John F. Kennedy alongside Ella Fitzagerald and Judy Garland. Some date the celebrity endorsement back to the year 1920, when Warren Harding was endorsed by entertainer Al Jolson, then considered the “biggest star in America.”
In the past two years, celebrities have also had a presence in local elections — Will Ferrell and Oprah endorsed Stacey Abrams when she ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, and Rihanna endorsed Andrew Gillum for governor of Florida in the same election cycle. Following years of political silence, Taylor Swift finally dipped her toes in the political waters with a 2018 Instagram post in which she both encouraged followers to register to vote and also endorsed two Democratic candidates in Tennessee, where she maintains a residence and considers home. While some said Swift was too late to the party — that she should’ve spoken up ahead of the 2016 election — in the 24 hours following her post, there were 65,000 new voter registrations which were largely attributed to her call to action. “Thank God for Taylor Swift,” Kamari Guthrie of Vote.org told BuzzFeed News at the time.
Even still, reflecting on the 2016 election last year, Swift wondered aloud whether an endorsement of Hillary Clinton would’ve helped or harmed given that “you had a political opponent who was weaponizing the idea of the celebrity endorsement.”
For the biggest celebrities, speaking out can carry as much of a risk to their reputation and marketability as not speaking out — a true Hollywood Catch-22. Though she didn’t endorse Trump, Kim Kardashian explained she did worry about the “backlash” from meeting with him to discuss prison reform. Kanye West (who is vying for his own spot on the 2020 ticket), at one point announced he was supporting Donald Trump, leading to criticism of the entire Kardashian family. And when Beyoncé spoke out in support of Beto O’Rourke, endorsing him three hours before the polls closed during his 2018 Senate race, she also took flak for being too little, too late to mobilize people to vote for O’Rourke in a tight election. Criticism happened in spite of the fact that Beyonce has become increasingly political over the course of her career (previously, she had received support and criticism for her support of the Black Lives Matter movement).
While the correlation between celebrity endorsements and votes isn’t straightforward, it’s worth acknowledging that encouraging large swaths of individuals to vote, and be politically engaged, is never a bad thing.
With that, here’s who celebrities are endorsing in the 2020 presidential race.
*Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 election on March 5. Most supporters have followed Warren's lead and endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.
John Legend & Chrissy Teigen
Fresh off the most recent debate, on January 14, John Legend announced, again, he’s voting for Elizabeth Warren, quote-tweeting a clip of her discussing the electability of women. Previously, Legend, and Chrissy Teigen, his wife, shared that Warren was their favorite candidate with Vanity Fair in October 2019.
On January 15, Sally Field posted a statement and graphic endorsing Elizabeth Warren, saying “I’m proud to be All In for @ewarren!”
Jonathan Van Ness
Star of the Netflix hit Queer Eye, Van Ness didn’t just endorse Warren: He will be campaigning for Warren in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 3 cauceses. He had previously endorsed her via Twitter in September, praising Medicare for All by writing that healthcare is a human right, and shouldn’t be for-profit.
Star of the U.S. Women's National Soccer team and World Cup champion Rapinoe endorsed Warren in December 2019, praising her for being “bold” and “real.” (Rapinoe is also an outspoken advocate for equal pay for women, an issue Warren has discussed, too).
In October, Etheridge released a Twitter statement supporting Warren on National Coming Out Day, citing Warren’s understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.
Prolific writer Roxane Gay tweeted her endorsement of Warren in September, pointing to Warren’s “plans for literally everything like addressing the burdens of student debt and black maternal health and universal healthcare.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in September, Johansson said she was supporting Warren. “She feels like someone who is thoughtful and progressive but realistic,” she said.
Celebrity donors who haven’t made formal endorsements include: Amy Schumer, Ryan Reynolds, Shonda Rhimes, and Rob Reiner. Sarah Jessica Parker was seen at a Warren rally in September.
Vivica A. Fox
The star of Kill Bill endorsed the former vice president in January 2020, explaining that “he has that history, and he’s been there.”
Sean Patrick Thomas
Thomas, who appeared in Save the Last Dance and Cruel Intentions, shared that he’ll be part of Biden’s four-day South Carolina Soul of the Nation surrogate bus tour, starting in January.
The former figure skater and Olympian will also be a surrogate for Biden, joining Biden’s South Carolina bus tour.
George R. R. Martin
Game of Thrones creator Martin shared his support for Biden in a May 2019 blog post, writing, “out in the real world, I was pleased that Joe Biden finally announced his candidacy for president.”
Celebrities who have donated to Biden’s campaign include Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, James L. Brooks, and Dionne Warwick.
*Bernie Sanders withdrew from the 2020 election on April 8. Most supporters have followed Sanders's lead and endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.
The rapper teamed up with Sanders for a video meant to engage young voters in the political process. She’d also previously tweeted support for him, noting, “this man been fighting for equal rights, HUMAN rights for such along time.”
In early January 2020, the actor formally endorsed Bernie Sanders via video announcement.
In a post tagging HeadCount.org and referencing the effort to register young voters at her concerts, Grande posted photos in which she’s seen hugging Sanders, announcing he is “her guy.”
Ratajkowski endorsed Sanders in January 2020, with a video endorsement on YouTube.
The actress has been a longtime Bernie supporter, including back in the 2016 election. She continues to campaign for Sanders in 2020.
*Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the 2020 presidential election on March 1. Most supporters have followed Buttigieg's lead and endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.
Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Moore headed out to campaign for Buttigieg, serving as a campaign surrogate, saying, "I'm not the most political person publicly. Privately, it's something I'm obsessed with, but when I first saw Pete and came to learn about him and his campaign, it was a no-brainer, I had to support.”
The Academy Award winner shared that he was endorsing former Mayor Pete in December 2019.
McFarlane tweeted a lengthy Notes-app endorsement of Buttigieg early, in July 2019.
The Shameless actress shared an Instagram photo with Buttigieg, along with a link in her bio encouraging people to help, in August 2019.
Celebrities who have donated to Buttigieg include Anna Wintour, Michael J. Fox, John Stamos, Ryan Murphy, Sharon Stone, and George Takei, among others.
*Andrew Yang dropped out of the 2020 presidential election on February 11. Most supporters have followed Yang's lead and endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.
Yang announced that Chappelle, his favorite comedian, endorsed him during a January campaign stop in Iowa.
The comedian announced in December 2019 that he’s part of the #YangGang via Twitter.
Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) took on a “creative consultant” role with the Yang campaign, including launching a pop-up merchandise store in Los Angeles.
In August 2019, the Tesla founder tweeted his support for Yang in response to a quote from Yang someone else tweeted.
Last March, Nicolas Cage’s manager confirmed to Rolling Stone that the actor had donated to Yang’s campaign, and supported his candidacy.
In early January, the Desperate Housewives alum marked her endorsement of Yang with an Instagram post. “[Yang] wants to solve the problems that got us here in a new forward thinking way,” she captioned an image of herself with the candidate and his wife, Evelyn Yang. “I think he can beat Trump and I believe he will be better for America.”
*Bloomberg dropped out of the race on March 4. Most supporters have followed Buttigieg's lead and endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.
Judy Sheindlin, better known by her TV moniker, Judge Judy, endorsed former New York City mayor Bloomberg for president in October of 2019. “An independent, tough-minded businessman, he represents our best chance to bring America together again and begin the long national process of healing,” she wrote of Bloomberg in an op-ed for USA Today.
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