Celebrity, Campaigns and Citizenship: 'Competing Populisms' in the 2012 United States Presidential Election

Stephanie Brookes, DJ Nolan

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Paper


In the 2012 US Presidential election, cultural icons Clint Eastwood and Bruce Springsteen were prominent supporters of the Romney and Obama campaigns. Each was co-opted by the campaigns as part of their efforts to lay claim to the values of an imagined ‘grassroots’. As a storyteller of the American experience, Eastwood would offer the Republicans, and Springsteen the Democrats, a link to the fans for whom the myth of cowboy hero or blue-collar solidarity was a familiar foundation of American identity. Celebrity involvement in politics is an increasingly prominent element of the professional mediatised campaign. This paper argues that, and analyses how, contemporary US politics is characterised by a battle between ‘competing populisms’, where the struggle to claim popular support relies on and enacts broader cultural narratives and idealised notions of identity. In doing so, we draw on theoretical engagements with celebrity politics as both a product and productive of shifting practices of governance, wherein the symbolic power of cultural narratives becomes tied to the symbolic power of electoral marketing. Our analysis of Eastwood and Springsteen’s role in the 2012 election provides a window into how this relationship can be read as a product of particular US cultural and political traditions, and also broader processes of social, cultural and industrial transformation that have, transnationally, worked to transform celebrity, democracy and their mutual imbrication. In this articulation, it is through positioning the cultural preferences of voters as a legitimate element of citizenship that political engagement is activated and political preferences negotiated. While citizens’ cultural preferences thus structure the conditions of their political engagement, however, the political process also actively works to harness such preferences to both mobilise and organise authentic ‘grassroots’ modes of populist politics.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes
EventAustralian Political Studies Association - APSA Conference 2013 - Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Duration: 30 Sept 20132 Oct 2013


ConferenceAustralian Political Studies Association - APSA Conference 2013
Abbreviated titleAPSA 2013


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