In this divisive political climate, it seems that even the all-American pastime of celebrity worship has taken on a partisan tinge.
Market research firm the NPD Group found that Americans who identify as conservative Republicans have a strong affinity for sports stars, especially football and golf; while those who identify as liberal Democrats are big fans of musicians, actors, and TV personalities.
In a list of the top 10 celebrities favored by conservative Republicans, eight were current or former players in the NFL or professional golfers. (The two outliers were singer-songwriter Josh Groban and NCIS actor Mark Harmon.)
"They watch more sports, they're a bigger fan of various sports franchises," Vincent Moy, director, industry analysis of entertainment marketing, said of Republicans. "It makes sense that sports figures come along with that overall interest."
The overwhelming dominance of football among conservative Republicans reflects a few demographic factors. The conservative Republican base skews male, which plays a role, and football in some deep red states is less of an extracurricular activity than a cultural tentpole.
"I think about football as being about very 'Americana' if you will. It's very much the go-to sport that Americans rally around," Moy said.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, six of the most popular celebrities among people who identify as liberal Democrats were musicians.
We also found that the differences were more pronounced when we focused on the further extreme of the spectrum," said Barbara Zack, NPD vice president.
Although no sports figures made liberal Democrats' top 10 celebrity list, when NPD broke down the results further to look at which athletes this group likes the most, the results were an eclectic mix of tennis, soccer, boxing, and basketball in addition to football and golf.
"That diversity is kind of a theme we see throughout the data," Moy said. When NPD asked about preferences in movies, music and video games, liberal Democrats also preferred a wider variety there, as well.
"In the video game world, also, it's like this interest in pursuit of more variety on the Democratic side," Moy said. "Their top games were a smattering of stealth games, role playing games, some sports games, while Republicans were very heavily sports," he said. Perhaps surprisingly, war and shooting games like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed were popular across political ideologies.
Zack said these findings have implications for marketers and political operatives.
"When marketers are looking at celebrity endorsers, they're trying to choose them specifically based on the fan base that celebrity will bring along," she said.
When a brand — or a politician — uses a celebrity that resonates deeply with their base, they can reinforce support but miss out on the chance to attract others not already in the fold. Alternately, an affiliation with a celebrity whose fan base doesn't have the same political leanings could grow a politician's support base.
"There's an opportunity for politicians to more purposefully use celebrity endorsers if they understand the fan base that they're bringing," she said.
"If the objective is to reinforce your core, fish where the fish are — find a celebrity endorser whose fans consume your brands," Zack said. "If your marketing agenda is to take share from the competitor, then you look for a celebrity whose fans are using a competing brand."