Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

Hollywood stars push youth to vote


Hayden Panettiere on celebrity endorsements

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Washington

In a crowded auditorium on the campus of American University in Washington, a Hollywood star speaks to a captive audience.

Although it's usually her role as Claire in Heroes that most people are interested in, today Hayden Panettiere has a different message.

"I want to talk about voting."

Voting might not be the reason why hundreds of her fans have packed into the lecture hall to see her, but Hayden Panettiere is trying to encourage them, and other young people, to turn up to the polls on election day.

She hopes she can make a difference.

"Celebrities are people who draw many people's attentions - especially young people and they set examples that young people follow," she told us.

Celebrity-endorsed campaigns successfully lowered complacency and helped young people believe in their own impact on the political system

Washington State University study

Hayden, who is 19, will be voting for the first time on 4 November.

She hopes that her fans will follow her lead by going to the ballot box, but there are many who say celebrities should stay out of politics.

Hayden disagrees: "Just because we're celebrities doesn't mean that we're stupid, it doesn't mean that we don't know what we're talking about, it doesn't mean we can't educate ourselves just as well as other people about it".

Rock The Vote

Hayden's efforts to turn out the vote include an internet appearance with Jessica Alba, where she is seen wearing a muzzle on a spoof shopping channel. The mask is meant to symbolise what happens if you don't exercise your right to vote.

A whole host of other Hollywood stars are also part of the effort to get people to the polls this election.

Leonardo DiCaprio, 05/10/08
Leonardo DiCaprio is also part of the campaign

Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Halle Berry and Tobey Maguire are some of the celebrities who appear in a video encouraging people to register.

Artists including The Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson, Vampire weekend and Gymclass Heroes are playing as part of "Rock The Vote" campus tour, which hopes to register fans attending the concerts.

Celebrity involvement with get-out-the-vote efforts is nothing new.

Rock The Vote has been using music and popular culture to raise awareness of elections and voting for nearly 20 years.

Madonna starred in one of their original adverts back in 1992. Draped in an American flag she told viewers to vote, as she danced to her song Vogue.

This year, in a more unusual method of getting voters to the polls, Sheryl Crow is giving away copies of her latest album to anyone who registers three friends to vote at the Rock The Vote website.

In another novel drive called the Ultimate College Bowl, university campuses in the US are being encouraged to sign students up to vote.

Clooney versus Hilton?

The college which registers the most people wins a free gig on campus performed by the band Death Cab For Cutie.

Recently, researchers at Washington State University claimed that celebrities did count when it came to engaging young voters.

Their study, based on a sample of 305 students looked at the role that stars such as Beyonce Knowles, Christina Aquilera and P. Diddy played in the 2004 US election campaign.

"Celebrity-endorsed campaigns successfully lowered complacency and helped young people believe in their own impact on the political system," the study said.

Madonna in concert in Toronto, 18/10/08
Madonna featured in Rock The Vote ads in 1992

But there are other surveys which discredit this theory, arguing that star power doesn't translate into votes.

Back at the American University campus, 18-year-old Shelby Logel who is a fan of the Heroes is excited at the prospect of seeing Hayden Panettiere in the flesh.

She believes that the cult of celebrity can make a difference.

"The way our society is, celebrities are more important to people than politicians. Them promoting stuff is more important than politicians telling you to vote".

Twenty-one-year old Michael Hangtan isn't so sure.

"I think celebrities getting involved is kinda absurdů I think I'm gonna take it with a grain of salt," he says.

But Alison Gross, 21, thinks it depends on who the celebrity is.

"People like George Clooney, Yes, but I don't think it works for somebody like Paris Hilton," she says.

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