seal  Purdue News

August 8, 2003

Americans' indifference, frustration sets stage for political stars

As more Americans continue to lose interest in conventional channels of political expression, the road to political office is more likely to wind its way through the Hollywood Walk of Fame, say two Purdue University political science experts.

James McCann, an expert in public opinion, says Americans are becoming less committed to political parties.

"For example, today's young adults participate in political parties less than their grandparent's generation," McCann says. "Because of that it's easy to see why personalities and character traits take on a greater weight when electing political representatives."

Neil Strine is a doctoral candidate in political science at Purdue whose dissertation is on celebrities invited to testify before Congress. He says celebrities – famous individuals who do not have political experience – are selected to help advance committees' interests.

"Bringing celebrities to Capitol Hill helps congressmen communicate to the American people," says Strine, who currently teaches at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. "Celebrities make American politics exciting and less remote."

McCann and Strine also can talk about the similarities between Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Ronald Reagan.

"It used to be that a key party took note of an actor, then encouraged him or her into politics," McCann says. "Compare that to a guy who stars in a lot of action films, makes no secret of his party affiliation, then decides one year to announce his candidacy on late night TV and is taken to be a front runner.

"During the last 30 years some significant changes have occurred in the way we have perceived political candidacy. Without discussing Schwarzenegger's virtues and vices, what this shows us is how permeable our political system can be."

CONTACT: McCann, (765) 494-0738,; Strine, (570) 356-7884,