Is Obama More Pop Than Politics? How the Prez's Celebrity Status May Cost Him 2012


In the 2008 election, Americans became mesmerized by Barack Obama’s forthcoming campaign. Through his marketing, branding, Hollywood connections, and extraordinary promises, Obama became “celebritized” over night, and voters were excited for his plans to come to life. It was not that Obama’s politics outweighed those of McCain’s, but his hallmark “Yes We Can” was all the affirmation voters needed to be hooked.

Now in 2012, there is no conceivable way to not hear a single mention of Barack Obama while watching television, listening to the radio, or reading your favorite magazine. It is no surprise that Obama has gained the attention of young voters ever since we heard his backlash on Kanye West’s VMAs outburst and saw him on Jimmy Kimmel’s and Jay Leno’s late night shows. To many voters, however, Obama’s political opinions seem to be overshadowed by his public appearances, and many are questioning whether it is his popularity or his policies that have gotten him this far.

Celebrities and political figures are always in the public eye, so it is necessary for even the president to brand himself and strategically communicate his ideas and portray a popular persona to the public. Obama’s 2008 campaign team worked effortlessly to establish Hollywood connections to endorse the president-elect, and now in fear of losing the support of his party, Obama’s recent announcement on gay marriage has brought a large percentage of his voters back to his side. This historic announcement will give him newly energized voters who will support the president on the road to the 2012 elections.

The White House has now become a new “outlet” for press and media coverage and has very untraditionally approached the way the public can watch their president.

Bill Maher, in his Los Angeles Times op-ed, comments that for politicians, “there is a fine line between being transparent and being overexposed.” In Obama’s case, overexposure became an understatement when the public began to see footage of him traveling with his wife, buying a new dog, or drinking a beer with his supporters on St. Patrick’s Day. Every president has surely participated in the same activities as Obama, but because of today's massive media saturation, we can now tell you that the favorite animal of Michelle Obama’s is a Portuguese water dog.

Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, however, sees Obama’s popularity differently. "I don't know if I consider it celebrity media," he says in the Wall Street Journal, "There's a very valuable human-interest element in showing who they are as a family." Human-interest vaguely represents the type of publicity Obama has capitalized on over his presidency, although memes such as “Obama Girl” and “Declare Yourself” seem to hardly have Obama’s politics, much less family, in mind.

The independent Super PAC American Crossroads has capitalized on the “celebritization” of Obama both in 2008 and most recently in April. “Four years ago,” the video begins, “we elected the biggest celebrity in the world,” countering his popularity with his loss of approval from university students and recent graduates, one of the more active voter populations. 

Despite his efforts, American Crossroads notes that the president must “begin to reconnect with and recapture support of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds.” Without a solid following on par with that of his 2008 campaign, his chances of reelection will significantly fall short.


Four years ago, we may have elected a global celebrity as the 44th president of the United States. Unless Obama can begin enacting new policies, energize his voters, and prioritize his political duties over his celebrity appearances, he may not be performing for a second term.