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Celebrity endorsement and music have been essential features of political campaigns for the last 70 years. One of the earliest examples dates back to 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt used “Happy Days Are Here Again” as the theme song to his first presidential campaign. It eventually became the unofficial anthem for the Democrats, was used for years afterwards, and set a new standard in the way elections were campaigned.

Jump forward to 1960 and you find crooner Frank Sinatra openly supporting the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy by singing a specially revised version of “High Hopes”. Jump forward further and you will hear the Republicans of 1988 singing the chorus of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (although McFerrin later asked them to stop using it).

And who can forget Bill Clinton blowing his saxophone along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” in 1992?

In 2008, it looks as though celebrity endorsement and music are set to be important parts of the Presidential Election once again, with a number of celebrities throwing their support into candidates’ campaigns. But although many stars are openly backing particular campaigns, their message this year has a deeper meaning.

“If we want to stop the war, if we want to get the economy better, I think that young people need to understand they have to take matters into their own hands,” said Sean 'Diddy' Combs. “It is really like waking up a sleeping giant.”

The 38-year-old Hip Hop star and fashion designer believes that it is more important than ever for young people to go out and vote, and that the voice of youth will be an defining factor in this year’s election.

“A lot of young people have decided that this is their future. This president is going to decide their future,” said Combs, who launched the Citizen Change campaign in 2004 to encourage young voters. “I didn’t really want to get in the political game but I wanted to see young people become empowered. That’s where my attention is at. To have an African-American man and a woman in, it’s going to go down in history as the most historical election. And I think that young people will have a hand in the result.”

Last Tuesday saw 20 states in America hold primary elections to determine the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees for president, with Senator Hillary Clinton up against Senator Barack Obama for the Democrats, and Senator John McCain against former Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republicans.

And it seems that all of the candidates have pulled together an impressive list of celebrity backers. McCain has received endorsements from Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tom Selleck, while Romney is being backed by the likes of Pat Boone and Donny Osmond. On the Democrats’ side, Clinton has received endorsements from Barbra Streisand, Danny DeVito, Sally Field, Magic Johnson, Steven Spielberg, and Jack Nicholson, while Obama has attracted the support of celebrities such as Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Biel, Usher, Edward Norton, Hulk Hogan, Robert De Niro, and Forest Whitaker.

23-year-old actress Scarlett Johansson is another star to show her support for Barack Obama, and last week recorded a message that was played to hundreds of voters in California over the telephone. She stated in the message that a vote for the Illinois senator was the last chance to “turn a page on the polarizing politics of the past”. This was followed by George Clooney adding his name to the supporters list at the annual Oscar Nominees’ Lunch last week.

“I’ve been an Obama guy for a year and a half and I’m very excited by his campaign,” he said. “It just seems that the more time he’s out there, his numbers keep growing. So I’m very, very encouraged.”

Johansson has also showed her support by taking part in the massive new internet campaign to increase the youth vote for Barack Obama. Led by Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am, the campaign features a music video that is taking YouTube by storm. Yes We Can took the singer two days to record and film, and has attracted almost 2 million views since it was released last Friday.

The Hip Hop star was inspired to write the song after watching Obama’s speech following the Democrat’s loss to Clinton in the New Hampshire primary election.

“It was as if he was talking to me,” said will.i.am. “It was as if he was talking to and defending everything that made me who I am. I took that speech, and I wanted everyone else to be inspired by that speech as I was.”

The song features Obama’s speech set to music, and includes appearances by John Legend, Kate Walsh, Nicole Scherzinger, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Herbie Hancock. Although it was not commissioned by Obama, he saw it on Saturday and has embraced it.

“After nearly a year on the campaign trail, I’ve seen a lot of things that have touched me deeply, but I had to share this with you,” Obama’s wife, Michelle, said in an e-mail to supporters. “Sharing this video, which was created by supporters, is one more way to help start a conversation with your friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else who will be voting soon about the issues important to them in this election.”

But will.i.am insists the point of the song is not just to stir up votes for the first-term senator, but to “remind people how powerful they are. The idea of ‘Yes We Can’ doesn’t stop because he doesn’t win.”

There are currently several organizations that are being backed by celebrities to encourage young people to vote, including Declare Yourself and Rock the Vote, both of which are using the internet to raise the awareness of youth prior to this year’s election.

“The Internet and technology empowers people,” said will.i.am. “And the ‘Yes We Can’ song is proof that they don’t need a big record company or a big movie company . . . to go out and captivate people’s attention.”

But whether celebrity endorsement actually affects the votes is still a matter of contention. According to a study carried out by the Pew Research Centre in September, “political endorsements generally have little impact on voter preference”.
The research found almost 70% of Americans polled said that if told a celebrity endorsed a presidential candidate, it would not affect their vote. And of the 30% who said an endorsement would influence them, 15% said it would make them more likely to vote for the endorsed candidate while the other half said they would be less likely to do so.

But if history is anything to go by, it won’t stop the celebrities from having their say.

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