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Celebrity Protests Have Minimal Impact on Public Opinion

Public claims celebrity activism has little influence on leaders or public

by Mark Gillespie

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the real West Wing prepares for a possible war with Iraq, the leader of the fictional "The West Wing" is trying to use his celebrity status to keep that war from happening. Actor Martin Sheen is just one of many Hollywood celebrities in vocal opposition to military action against Iraq.

However, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds more than eight out of 10 Americans say no entertainment personality has the clout to affect their personal stance on political issues. On the other hand, the poll finds celebrities' political involvement could well backfire and hurt their careers. Just one in five American adults say their willingness "see, hear, or read" a celebrity's work has been affected by that celebrity's political positions. But among that group, the tendency is to be less likely to see a celebrity's work as a result of the celebrity's political stance.

Furthermore, a majority of the American public believes that celebrity involvement in political issues is ineffective, at best. Just 3% believe celebrities can be "very effective" in influencing the president and other government officials, and 31% believe they can be "somewhat effective." Nearly two out of three (64%) say celebrities are "not too effective" or "not effective at all" in influencing Washington decision-makers.

Are Celebrities Who Criticize the War "Anti-American"?

Martin Sheen's criticism of the Bush administration may be making executives at NBC, which airs the popular "The West Wing" starring Sheen as the mythical President Bartlet, nervous. Sheen told the Los Angeles Times last week that top network executives have told him they are not happy with his stance (although network spokesmen have denied that claim). Sheen has been outspoken on liberal and progressive issues for many years, and his image has become highly politicized as a result -- as can been seen in the responses to two different questions from the Feb. 24-26 poll.

When asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Martin Sheen, 45% of Republicans said favorable -- compared to 67% of Democrats. One out of three Republicans (33%) hold an unfavorable opinion of Sheen, compared to just 9% of Democrats. The poll also asked whether there are any celebrities who "you personally feel are anti-American." Two percent of Americans, including 4% of Republicans, listed Sheen by name when asked if they could identify any specific celebrity.

However, Sheen did not lead this list. While 21% of Americans were able to answer yes to the basic "anti-American" question, no more than 3% were able to name any specific celebrity. In that category, Jane Fonda and Sean Penn were mentioned by 3%, while Sheen, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, and Alec Baldwin each received 2%. Eight percent expressed the opinion that there are "anti-American" celebrities, but could not name one specifically.

Although Fonda has not been highly visible in recent months regarding the Iraq situation, her name still generates resentment based, no doubt, on her support for the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. A 1972 Gallup Poll asked Americans to rate public figures on a favorability scale from +5 to –5, and found 29% of Americans gave Fonda the lowest possible rating of –5.

While Fonda's involvement in current anti-war activities has been minimal, Sean Penn's can be described as anything but. Penn paid for a full-page ad in the Washington Post urging President Bush not to go to war with Iraq, and visited Baghdad earlier this year to meet with Iraqi officials. Of eight celebrities (ranging from the politically conservative to the politically liberal), Penn received the highest unfavorable ratings from Americans in the Feb. 22-24 poll, and was the only one of the eight to receive a higher overall unfavorable rating than favorable.

Opinions of most celebrities, with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, are highly political in nature. For example, 73% of Democrats rate Barbra Streisand favorably, as do only 33% of Republicans. Streisand has often spoken out in favor of liberal policy positions and candidates. On the other hand, 69% of Republicans, and 53% of Democrats, rate Charlton Heston favorably. Heston has served as president of the National Rifle Association and is an outspoken conservative.

 

2003 Feb 24-26 (sorted by "favorable")


Favorable


Unfavorable

%

%

Arnold Schwarzenegger

72

14

George Clooney

61

19

Charlton Heston

57

33

Martin Sheen

55

20

Barbra Streisand

52

33

Alec Baldwin

45

26

Susan Sarandon

43

22

Sean Penn

35

38



The highly politicized ratings of celebrities indicate that a substantial percentage of Americans are listening to what celebrities have to say, even if they report it has no bearing on their own views. The political nature of Hollywood is further underscored by the finding that the vast majority of Democrats, 87%, say that there are no celebrities who are anti-American. Republicans are much more divided -- 43% say that some celebrities are anti-American, and 57% say that none are. As evidenced above, most of the celebrities mentioned by name as being anti-American are left-leaning in their political views.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Feb. 24-26, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

As you may know, many entertainment celebrities publicly speak out on political issues.

Are there any entertainment celebrities who, if they spoke out in favor of a position, would make you more likely to favor that position?

 

Yes, are

No, are not

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

11%

87

2



Are there any entertainment celebrities who, if they spoke out in favor of a position, would make you more likely to oppose that position?

 

Yes, are

No, are not

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

13

85

2



Has there ever been an instance in which a celebrity's position on a political issue had an effect on your willingness to see, hear or read that celebrity's work, or not?

 

Yes, has been

No, has not

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

20%

78

2



Have a celebrity's views ever made you more likely to see, hear, or read their work, or not?

BASED ON –224—ADULTS WHO SAY THERE HAS BEEN AN INSTANCE IN WHICH A CELEBRITY'S POSITION ON A POLITICAL ISSUE HAD AN EFFECT ON THEIR WILLINGNESS TO SEE THAT CELEBRITY'S WORK

 

Yes, have

No, have not

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

49%

49

2



COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.17-18)

 

More Likely

Not more likely

No opinion

2003 Feb 17-19

10%

88

2



Have a celebrity's views ever made you less likely to see, hear, or read their work, or not?

BASED ON –224—ADULTS WHO SAY THERE HAS BEEN AN INSTANCE IN WHICH A CELEBRITY'S POSITION ON A POLITICAL ISSUE HAD AN EFFECT ON THEIR WILLINGNESS TO SEE THAT CELEBRITY'S WORK

 

Yes, have

No, have not

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

65%

35

*



COMBINED RESPONSES

 

Less Likely

Not less likely

No opinion

2003 Feb 17-19

13%

86

1



Just your best guess, when entertainment celebrities speak out on political issues, how effective do you think they are in influencing the views of the president and other government officials -- very effective, somewhat effective, not too effective, or not effective at all?

 


Very effective


Somewhat effective


Not too effective

Not effective
at all


No
opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

3%

31

37

27

2



Are there any celebrities that you, personally, feel are anti-American?

 

Yes

No

No opinion

2003 Feb 24-26

21%

73

6



Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the entertainment field. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them. First, ... How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON –462—NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

A. Martin Sheen

 

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

National Adults

2003 Feb 24-26

55%

20

12

13

Republicans

2003 Feb 24-26

45%

33

9

13

Independents

2003 Feb 24-26

52%

20

16

12

Democrats

2003 Feb 24-26

67%

9

11

13



    1. George Clooney

     

    Favorable

    Unfavorable

    Never heard of

    No opinion

    National Adults

    2003 Feb 24-26

    61%

    19

    7

    13

    Republicans

    2003 Feb 24-26

    52%

    27

    5

    16

    Independents

    2003 Feb 24-26

    56%

    22

    8

    14

    Democrats

    2003 Feb 24-26

    73%

    8

    8

    11



  1. Sean Penn
  2.  

    Favorable

    Unfavorable

    Never heard of

    No opinion

    National Adults

    2003 Feb 24-26

    35%

    38

    12

    15

    Republicans

    2003 Feb 24-26

    27%

    48

    10

    15

    Independents

    2003 Feb 24-26

    32%

    39

    14

    15

    Democrats

    2003 Feb 24-26

    46%

    29

    11

    14



  3. Susan Sarandon
  4.  

    Favorable

    Unfavorable

    Never heard of

    No opinion

    National Adults

    2003 Feb 24-26

    43%

    22

    18

    17

    Republicans

    2003 Feb 24-26

    29%

    40

    12

    19

    Independents

    2003 Feb 24-26

    47%

    16

    21

    16

    Democrats

    2003 Feb 24-26

    51%

    12

    20

    17



  5. Barbra Streisand
  6.  

    Favorable

    Unfavorable

    Never heard of

    No opinion

    National Adults

    2003 Feb 24-26

    52%

    33

    3

    12

    Republicans

    2003 Feb 24-26

    33%

    54

    2

    11

    Independents

    2003 Feb 24-26

    45%

    34

    6

    15

    Democrats

    2003 Feb 24-26

    73%

    16

    1

    10



  7. Alec Baldwin
  8.  

    Favorable

    Unfavorable

    Never heard of

    No opinion

    National Adults

    2003 Feb 24-26

    45%

    26

    13

    16

    Republicans

    2003 Feb 24-26

    37%

    36

    11

    16

    Independents

    2003 Feb 24-26

    38%

    33

    14

    15

    Democrats

    2003 Feb 24-26

    60%

    12

    12

    16



  9. Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

National Adults

2003 Feb 24-26

72%

14

2

12

Republicans

2003 Feb 24-26

75%

12

2

11

Independents

2003 Feb 24-26

73%

14

*

13

Democrats

2003 Feb 24-26

71%

17

2

10



H. Charlton Heston

 

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

National Adults

2003 Feb 24-26

57%

25

9

9

Republicans

2003 Feb 24-26

69%

14

7

10

Independents

2003 Feb 24-26

48%

27

15

10

Democrats

2003 Feb 24-26

53%

33

6

8



SUMMARY TABLE: FAVORABILITY OF PEOPLE IN THE ENTERTAINMENT FIELD

 

2003 Feb 24-26

(sorted by "favorable")


Favorable


Unfavorable

%

%

Arnold Schwarzenegger

72

14

George Clooney

61

19

Charlton Heston

57

33

Martin Sheen

55

20

Barbra Streisand

52

33

Alec Baldwin

45

26

Susan Sarandon

43

22

Sean Penn

35

38



* -- Less than 0.5%

Gallup

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