WASHINGTON – Major musicians are lining up behind political candidates and causes in an effort to mobilize their audiences, but some experts and a new Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll suggest they are unlikely to have a dramatic impact on voter attitudes.
Nonetheless, musical artists of all genres can be found delving into issues and candidates with all their creative energies.
The Dixie Chicks (search), for instance, stirred a well-publicized spat last year over their dislike for President Bush's policies on Iraq. Since then, the Chicks have launched their own activist Web site directing youth voters to liberal causes.
Hip-hop producer Russell Simmons has hitched many of his stars to a new organization aimed at fighting poverty and injustice. And rock band U2's frontman Bono has been fighting for Third World debt relief, even traveling to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (search).
Country music legend Willie Nelson (search) has thrown an endorsement to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and has offered his musical skills to the presidential hopeful's rallies. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., gained the backing of alternative rock artist Moby.
"When a musician lends his name to an effort, or issue or candidate, that's going to bring more eyeballs to it. Because of their position, they obviously have a vehicle and ability to get a large number of people to hear that message," Rock the Vote President Jehmu Greene told Foxnews.com.
"Musicians can create a sense of culture around the politics," added Hans Reimer, Washington director of Rock the Vote, who noted the particular impact of musical celebrities on young voters. "If there were a big wave against Bush or for him coming from the music industry, that’s going to sweep a lot of people up and make it cool to be political. If musicians are politically engaged, then young people are going to be politically engaged."
Another musician initiative is Punkvoter, which is soon to announce its "Rock Against Bush" tour that will include NOFX, Against Me!, Green Day, Alkaline Trio, Foo Fighters and Pennywise.
Musicians don't all fall on one side of the political spectrum. A number of country music stars has expressed support for the war on terrorism, with about a dozen patriotic songs being released since Sept. 11, 2001. Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" became a huge hit while Lee Greenwood's re-release of "God Bless the U.S.A." found a whole new audience since its initial 1985 release date.
Christian rock bands, which have exploded on the music scene in the last decade, are also actively involved in political causes, said Jackie Marushka Smith, vice president of public relations of Provident Music Group (search), the Christian music division of Bertelsmann Music Group.
Smith said Christian bands have been lobbying for funds to battle AIDS in Africa and fighting poverty in America. Tai Anderson, bassist for the Christian rock group Third Day, said his band has held benefit concerts for Habitat for Humanity and Worldvision, a program that builds hospitals and schools in communities that have been ravaged by AIDS.
Anderson said he has helped build Habitat homes and traveled to Africa to work with poor communities.
"Inside the band, we always have a huge debate. We don’t want to have an agenda. We just want to be able to rock, but when we look around the world," we feel compelled to get involved, he said.
Adam Anthony, project director of the Campaign for Young Voters (search), said musicians can be effective, particularly when they back their words with their own time and sweat.
"Kids are very strong insincerity detectors, and they know when someone is speaking with credibility," Anthony said, citing Bono's work at combating poverty. "It definitely gives it more credibility when artists actually try to put their money [effort, and other resources] where their mouth is."
But Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said she is not convinced of the impact musical artists have on elections.
"The ultimate test of political effectiveness is to turn out votes. At this point. it remains to be seen whether these musicians can parlay their musical popularity into getting people to register to vote and to turn out voters," she said.
Indeed, results of a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll indicate that musical artists and other celebrities have little ability to change people's minds on specific topics.
Only five percent of 900 national registered voters surveyed on December 3-4 said they pay "a lot" of attention to the political opinions of celebrities. Fourteen percent said they pay "some" attention, but 79 percent responded that musical artists and celebrities have "not much" or no impact on their attitudes. Only nine percent of voters said they had changed their mind on an issue after hearing the views of a celebrity, while 88 percent said they had not.
Regarding the 2004 presidential election, 90 percent said a celebrity would not influence his or her vote against Bush, and 88 percent said a celebrity would not impact a decision to vote for the president.
Despite this, musicians are still using their stages to express their opinions. Moby, for instance, told Fox News in September that he is actively supporting Kerry because he admires his wisdom and experience.
"One thing I'm hoping to bring to it is just sort of to draw more awareness to his campaign and, you know, make younger people realize that, ideologically, they probably have a lot more in common with John Kerry than they might imagine," he said.
Nelson, a staple at Farm Aid concerts, wrote a statement for Kucinich's Web site that reads: "A Kucinich administration will put the interests of America's family farmers, consumers and environment above the greed of industrial agribusiness."
Anthony said he doubts whether such endorsements could significantly boost a campaign, but he said in a close race, the consistent presence of a musician could add a feeling that a campaign is "sexy, noteworthy, interesting."
Smith added that fans of Christian rock likely already find Bush appealing, at least in part, because of his faith.
Whatever the case in presidential politics, Anderson said he definitely thinks the band has inspired listeners and he is grateful for the reaction.
"When we're done, who's going to care how many gold or platinum records are on the wall?" he asked. "The way our fans have responded will probably be our greatest legacy."