Using a case study approach, Celebrities in American Elections contends that celebrities have the talent, fame, and resources to succeed in electoral politics. These factors account for the electoral victories of Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Fred Grandy, Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, and Donald Trump. However, the author argues that these items are insufficient without a favorable political environment; as many celebrities have lost elections as have won them. They lose because their persona does not match the politics of their time, or they represent the minority party in a one party dominated district or state, or they advocate for unpopular policies. Among those that won, nearly half were elected by a plurality – not a majority – of voters. This does not suggest overwhelming public support for celebrity candidates despite their many advantages. With a few exceptions, celebrities that won tended to also win the fundraising battle, while celebrities that lost tended to raise less than their opponent – the normal laws of politics still apply. The celebrity factor, while helpful, does not fully explain why celebrities win or lose elections.
Richard T. Longoria is associate professor of political science at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Chapter 1: Celebrity Society
Chapter 2: Celebrity Politics
Chapter 3: Ronald Reagan
Chapter 4: Clint Eastwood
Chapter 5: Fred Grandy
Chapter 6: Sonny Bono
Chapter 7: Jesse Ventura
Chapter 8: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Chapter 9: Al Franken
Chapter 10: Donald Trump
Chapter 11: Reverse Migration and Celebrity Losers
Chapter 12: The Perils and Promises of Celebrity Politics
Professor Longoria's new book, Celebrities in American Elections: Case Studies in Celebrity Politics, provides an engaging and insightful treatment of the increasing prominence of entertainers in American politics. He clearly identifies the political advantages entertainers enjoy, but he also explains why some entertainers fail in their efforts to win public office. A must read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the increasingly intertwined worlds of politics and entertainment.
In the 19th century, a politician had to be an entertainer, whether a low-rent Shakespearean orator or a passable fiddler. And it helped if he also bought the whiskey! Richard Longoria does a masterful job of showing us how the mass media culture flipped this notion on its head, making the entertainers into the politicians. His foundation in previous scholarship and his telling of the great cases of entertainer-politicians captures our durable celebrity culture. It also encapsulates the broader vulnerability of the American Republic to a democratic politics with very few judgment brakes other than the questionable wisdom of crowds.
Through a series of case studies, this book offers an up-to-date analysis of celebrities as spokespersons for political candidates and as actual candidates for political office, emphasizing the latter. Longoria posits that celebrities possess a trifecta of talent, fame, and resources, which they uniquely bring to the political arena. These resources not only help them win elections, but also provide them with considerable slack for the sexual misbehavior in their pasts. Each case study tests the author's assertions about the trifecta and also provides many intriguing nuggets about the celebrities, their backgrounds, and the prevailing political environment. This book is recommended for advanced undergraduates through faculty.