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Kylian Mbappe and George Clooney voice their political opinions. But do celebrity interventions have an impact on elections?

In France, soccer star Kylian Mbappe warned that the far-right being in government in France would be ‘catastrophic’. In the U.S., actor George Clooney is asking President Joe Biden to step aside.

Kylian Mbappe in a white uniform holding a soccer ball under his right arm at a EURO 2024 match.
Soccer star Kylian Mbappe urged the French electorate not to put the country’s government ‘in the hands’ of the far-right. Photo by Grzegorz Wajda / Sipa via AP Images

LONDON — Soccer supremo Kylian Mbappe may not have been able to propel France to victory in Euro 2024 but did he score a personal political win by trying to derail the far-right’s path to government?

Before the first round of voting in the National Assembly elections last month, Mbappe had urged France’s young voters to reject extremism. His message did not stop National Rally, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party, from securing a third of all votes cast, putting it on track to form a government.

With Le Pen’s far-right cohort on the march, Mbappe decided it was time for a more direct approach ahead of the second round of voting on July 7. 

“We cannot leave our country in the hands of these people, it is really urgent,” the 25-year-old said during a press conference in Germany two days before polls opened. “We saw the results of the first round, it’s catastrophic. We really hope that this will change and that everyone will mobilize to vote … and vote for the right side.”

Mbappe did not get the result he wanted in the Euros, with Les Bleus crashing out after a 2-1 defeat to Spain in the semifinal on Tuesday. The outcome of the second round of voting in the parliamentary election will likely have been far more satisfying to him, however.

National Rally was pushed into third place as tactical voters rallied behind the New Popular Front, a left-wing coalition, and President Emmanuel Macron’s second-place centrist Together alliance in a result that produced a hung parliament.  

In the United States, actor George Clooney made headlines on Wednesday when he called on President Joe Biden to step aside in his race against former President Donald Trump.

In a New York Times guest essay, Clooney cited fears the 81-year-old Democratic president is ailing.

“This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private,” Clooney wrote. 

“It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010,” Clooney wrote. “He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

Celebrity endorsements are common in the U.S. and they are becoming mainstream in the U.K. as well. 

“Love, Actually” and “Notting Hill” star Hugh Grant spent the 2019 general election campaigning for anti-Brexit candidates, while Robert Del Naja from British trip-hop group Massive Attack voiced support for Green Party leader Carla Denyer in her successful bid for election as a member of Parliament in last week’s national vote.

In a culture where potential lawmakers have to try to shout above the daily noise of competing interests, Josephine Harmon, an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University in London, says endorsements by popular celebrities can “add a bit of gold dust to a politician’s status.”

“I think it helps them seem humanized and popular,” Harmon says. “Ultimately, that is what politics is about and I think it can give politicians a boost if people associate them with a favored celebrity.”

Celebrities and other so-called “influencers,” with their huge social media followings and ability to generate headlines, can also broaden appeal for politicians slugging it out on the campaign trail.

“In 2020, Taylor Swift came out for [U.S. President] Joe Biden and during the election [American rapper] Cardi B did a lot with Bernie Sanders,” Harmon says.

“That can clearly reach a younger audience who may not otherwise follow politics. “If you suddenly see it in your social media feed or on TikTok or wherever, and see your favorite celebrity has done an interview or had a conversation with a politician, that politician is much more likely to get traction just by having that entry into people’s attention spans.”

Harmon highlights how former President Barack Obama was effective at developing relations with Hollywood, having been seen as a “very starry president” who created a “symbiosis between him personally and the pizzazz of celebrity,” with mega stars Beyonce and Clooney among those to advocate for him. 

Tony Blair, when he was U.K. prime minister, also played up to the “Cool Britannia” theme of the ’90s, Harmon says, by inviting the likes of rock band Oasis to Downing Street.

But how much sway do celebrity interventions have in politics? Marianna Griffini, an expert in populism at Northeastern University, said Mbappe’s anti far-right sentiments would likely have had an impact without being a deciding factor in the French elections.

“I think it is unlikely that Mbappe’s resolute condemnation of Le Pen, and the broader national team’s explicit political positioning, impacted the election,” the assistant professor in international relations and anthropology says.

“For sure, football teams have a huge traction and thus have an influence over the public. There have been notable episodes of football teams’ players and far-right party representatives attacking each other due to political disagreements over matters related to ethnic identity and integration. However, these instances did not dictate the future directions of politics.

“Mbappe has expressed concerns over National Rally’s nativism [a policy of pitting national interests against pro-migration arguments], which may have had some impact on the election, but not a determinant one. More relevant factors determined the outcome, among which there may have been worries about nativism and economic conditions,” Griffini says.

Le Pen was less than pleased at Mbappe’s intervention, painting him and other celebrities as out of touch with the French population due to their international lifestyles and huge paychecks. This summer, Mbappe moved from Paris Saint Germain to Real Madrid, with a BBC report suggesting he will earn 15m Euros ($16.2 million) a season, plus a 150m Euro ($162 million) signing bonus to be paid over five years.

“French people are fed up with being lectured and advised on how to vote,” Le Pen said, in reply to the player’s comments, calling on celebrities and other stars to “show a little restraint” during election campaigns.

Griffini says National Rally and Le Pen, despite her own upbringing within a well-off political family, were making an attack on Mbappe that was designed to depict him as “being part of an economic elite.”

“This can appeal to voters who resent the gigantic footballers’ wages, even if it is just one of the many elites targeted by the far-right,” the London-based professor says.

Some sports stars and red carpet regulars might not feel able to speak out like Mbappe was able to, Harmon argues, for risk of losing sponsorship or other career-related deals.

“In this instance, Mbappe is a huge star. He doesn’t have to worry about his own deals with whichever companies that he is working with. They are never going to drop him, whereas another footballer might not have that kind of purchase or that kind of pulling power,” Harmon says.