Celebs won't influence election, poll finds. But one couple still has sway.

Celebrities and influencers won't have much of an impact on 2024 presidential election.
Celebrities and influencers won't have much of an impact on 2024 presidential election.

Move over Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. Though Americans may look to you when they choose their music and fashion, they won't be paying much attention to these icons for their political decision-making this fall.

In an exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University national poll this month, voters mostly turned their noses up at advice from red carpet names, with two exceptions: the Obamas.

Of the likely voters surveyed between May 3 and 5, 18% said former President Barack Obama's opinion mattered to them "a lot" and 14% said the same of former first lady Michelle Obama's. Both support President Joe Biden's run for a second term.

Conservative influencers mentioned to voters didn't seem to have much impact, and no one moved the needle much among those who identified as independent, except the Obamas. Still, 61% of those polled said even the Obamas opinions had no effect on them at all. (The survey included 1,000 registered voters, each of whom was asked half of the list of names to keep it from getting too unwieldy.)

"All of this suggests that in a race between two well-known presidents, because they've lived through both Biden and (former President Donald) Trump, voters don’t want to be told who to vote for," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center who oversaw the poll. "We've found out that no celebrity or influencer has great clout so far this year."

With less than six months until Election Day, Biden and Trump are in a dead heat, 37% to 37%, followed by independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy with 8% ‒ potentially setting up the closest and most politically polarized contest in the nation's history.

Global political strategist Louis Perron, who was not involved in the poll, said with the U.S. so highly partisan compared with a decade ago, only about 6% of all American voters are likely to be swayed by celebrity endorsements. Those voters may include first-timers or those who feel a conscious duty to vote but are uncertain about who to pick.

And despite their lack of influence on individual voters, celebrities can still make a difference for candidates by fundraising, said Perron, author of the 2024 book, "Beat the Incumbent: Proven Strategies and Tactics to Win Elections."

No Kim K. effect here

Swift was so successful at encouraging young people to register to vote late last year that some Republicans worried she might be a liberal plant by the Pentagon.

Though she hasn't endorsed a presidential candidate this year, Perron said such support could offer a candidate "a bridge to young people who otherwise might not find you cool, as a door opener."

Polls suggest Biden needs more young voters than Trump, as a large share of Gen Z voters say they are undecided or apathetic about voting this year. Less than half of those ages 18 to 29 in a recent Harvard Youth Poll said they will "definitely vote" this year, down from 57% of respondents in 2020.

"The youth, female and suburban voters will decide this (presidential) race," Perron said.

In other cases, a celebrity endorsement might be meaningless, despite their popularity and well respected political activities.

Kim Kardashian, for instance, is committed to prison reform, a major stakeholder in the Armenia Fund, which builds schools, hospitals and infrastructure in Armenia, and works with the Dream Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill adults and their families.

But nearly 90% of voters polled said Kardashian will not affect their choice for president.

"Her appeal and all of her millions of social media followers are nontransferable to voters who don’t see this, and perception is reality in their minds," Paleologos said. "She may get a lot of likes and clicks, but that doesn't seem to translate into votes."

It's all about the candidates

Kardashian's civic accomplishments "don't faze" Democratic voter Oneika Tinsley, 46, of Pleasant Hill, California. Tinsley said her vote all comes back to the candidates themselves.

Tinsley is among voters regarded as "double haters," those who dislike both presumptive presidential nominees. About 55% of registered voters have an unfavorable opinion of Biden, the same percentage who have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk poll conducted in March.

"Is this really the best we got to offer? That makes me sad as an American if these are the two front-runners for president," said Tinsley a mother of five children ranging in age from 27 to 8. Two of her adult daughters will be voting as well.

"I guess I'm voting for Biden again," said Tinsley, taking a deep breath. "By default."

Tinsley added as an African American voter, a key bloc for Biden, she is "tired of the Democrats pandering to us for our votes every four years and then we don't hear from them again. The economy and health care costs are out of control."

Brad Bailey, 36, a mortgage banker from Mission Viejo, California, comes down on the other side. Bailey is a Republican and married father of a 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. "I think our country is far more worse off (than four years ago). I'm definitely taking Trump over Biden."

Bailey said he's tired of the U.S. funding wars in Gaza and Ukraine and thinks the country should "keep some of that money" back here at home.

"I understand the need to help Israel and Ukraine, but I can’t even fathom the amount of money we’re sending all over the world to these other countries," he said. "I just believe that we should be thinking more about us before the rest of the world."

Christine Whitehead, 45, from Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, a registered Republican, also wants "a refocus" on America. "I know we have to defend those we said we’d defend and support, but we can't just keep this going and going forever," Whitehead said.

A kitchen design manager and mother of an adult son and teenage daughter, Whitehead said she's voting for Trump. She's not that concerned about the felony charges Trump faces or that he would act as a dictator should he retake the White House.

"He is who he is, we know who is," Whitehead said. She hopes Trump picks former GOP presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy for his vice president and she's also a fan of former Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

"She seems very wholesome and very hardworking," Whitehead said.

The real influencers

The Obamas had more influence ‒ especially, though not exclusively among Democrats ‒ than anyone else pollsters asked about. Former President Bill Clinton still held some sway, with 20% of those polled saying he influenced their opinion either "a lot" or "a little."

None of the conservative voices seemed to have much pull at all. Haley; House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.; and former President George W. Bush failed to break 5% when respondents were asked if the figure influenced their vote "a lot." Even among Republicans, those three only held "a lot" of sway among 5% to 8% of respondents. The numbers were slightly higher among Republicans who said the three held "a little" influence: 15% for Bush, 13% for Haley and 9% for Johnson.

More middle-of-the-road and diverse figures, like podcast host Joe Rogan, entrepreneur Elon Musk, radio personality Charlamagne tha God, and writer Alok Vaid-Menon were also in the single digits in terms of influence; as were sports figures like Tiger Woods, Charles Barkley and Caitlin Clark.

Barack Obama's support for Biden is meaningful to voter Daniel Diaz, 64, of San Antonio, Texas. A registered Democrat, Diaz said he's leaning on the former president's sentiments to choose Biden over Trump as "the lesser of two evils."

"Obama is very level-headed, and we need that right now," said Diaz, a married father of five adult sons. "Biden is going to be in a tough fight."

Instead of celebrities, Paleologos said the real influencers in this fall's election are likely to be third-party candidates, such as RFK Jr.

Alex Birkhofer, 27, a registered Republican of Santa Cruz, California, said he doesn't need pop culture mixing with his politics. A forester, Birkhofer is considering leaning towards voting for Kennedy over Trump. Yet he admittedly struggles with whether his vote will make a difference due to the extreme partisanship between the GOP and the Dems.

"I don’t agree with everything they are campaigning about because they are trying to appeal to their bases, which in modern politics you have to be either the most extreme Republican and the most extreme Democrat to win people over," Birkhofer said. "I’m tired of that."

Whitehead said she also despises the divisiveness.

"I think there are wonderful people on both sides of party lines, but I think there are some equally horrible people, too," Whitehead said. "I have friends who are Republicans and Democrats, but I hate when some of them get mad at you based on who you're voting for. This is not good for anybody. It's taking a toll on our country."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celebs don't influence voters, poll finds, but Obamas have some sway