Skip to main content Accessibility help

Messi, Ronaldo, and the Politics of Celebrity Elections: Voting for the Best Soccer Player in the World

  • Christopher J. Anderson, Luc Arrondel, André Blais, Jean-François Daoust, Jean-François Laslier and Karine Van der Straeten...


It is widely assumed that celebrities are imbued with political capital and the power to move opinion. To understand the sources of that capital in the specific domain of sports celebrity, we investigate the popularity of global soccer superstars. Specifically, we examine players’ success in the Ballon d’Or—the most high-profile contest to select the world’s best player. Based on historical election results as well as an original survey of soccer fans, we find that certain kinds of players are significantly more likely to win the Ballon d’Or. Moreover, we detect an increasing concentration of votes on these kinds of players over time, suggesting a clear and growing hierarchy in the competition for soccer celebrity. Further analyses of support for the world’s two best players in 2016 (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) show that, if properly adapted, political science concepts like partisanship have conceptual and empirical leverage in ostensibly non-political contests.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Messi, Ronaldo, and the Politics of Celebrity Elections: Voting for the Best Soccer Player in the World
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Messi, Ronaldo, and the Politics of Celebrity Elections: Voting for the Best Soccer Player in the World
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Messi, Ronaldo, and the Politics of Celebrity Elections: Voting for the Best Soccer Player in the World
      Available formats



Hide All

A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.

*Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at::



Hide All
Agrawal, Jagdish and Kamakura, Wagner A.. 1995. “The Economic Worth of Celebrity Endorsers: An Event Study Analysis.” Journal of Marketing 59(3): 5662.
Anderson, Christopher J. and Sally, David F.. 2013. The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong. New York: Penguin.
Anderson, Christopher J., Blais, André, Bowler, Shaun, Donovan, Todd, and Listhaug, Ola. 2005. Losers’ Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy . New York: Oxford University Press.
Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Atkinson, Matthew D. and DeWitt., Darin 2018. “Does Celebrity Issue Advocacy Mobilize Issue Publics?Political Studies 67(1): 8399.
Atkinson, Matthew and DeWitt, Darin. 2016. “Celebrity Political Endorsements Matter.” Celebrity Studies 7(1): 119–21.
Berelson, Bernard R., Lazarsfeld, Paul F., and McPhee, William N.. 1954. Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Boorstin, Daniel J. 1972. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America . New York: Atheneum.
Bowers, Anne and Prato, Matteo. 2018. “The Structural Origins of Unearned Status: How Arbitrary Changes in Categories Affect Status Position and Market Impact.” Administrative Science Quarterly 63(3): 668699.
Boyle, Raymond and Haynes, Richard. 2000. Sport, the Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Longman.
Brockington, Dan. 2014. Celebrity Advocacy and International Development. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Burden, Barry C. and Klofstad, Casey A.. 2005. “Affect and Cognition in Party Identification.” Political Psychology 26(6): 869–86.
Buscombe, Edward, ed. 1975. Football on Television: BFI Television Monograph 4. London: British Film Institute.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter . New York: Wiley.
Carnes, Nicholas and Lupu, Noam. 2016. “Do Voters Dislike Working-Class Candidates? Voter Biases and the Descriptive Underrepresentation of the Working Class.” American Political Science Review 110(4): 832–44.
CIES—International Centre for Sports Studies. Demographic Study of European Football (2009-2017), Neuchatel, Switzerland: CIES.
Clarke, John. 1978. “Football and Working Class Fans: Tradition and Change.” In Football Hooliganism: The Wider Context, ed. Ingham, Roger, 3760. London: Inter-Action Imprint.
Cooper, Andrew. 2008. Celebrity Diplomacy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Coppock, Alexander, Leeper, Thomas J., and Mullinix, Kevin J.. 2018. “Generalizability of Heterogeneous Treatment Effect Estimates Across Samples.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(49): 12441–46.
Crawford, Garry. 2004. Consuming Sport: Fans, Sport and Culture. London: Routledge.
Critcher, Chas. 1979. “Football since the War.” In Working Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory, eds. Clarke, John, Critcher, Chas, and Johnson, Richard, 161184. London: Hutchinson.
Deloitte. 2017. Annual Review of Football Finance: Ahead of the Curve. Manchester, UK: Deloitte, Sports Business Group.
Dixon, Kevin. 2013. “Learning the Game: Football Fandom Culture and the Origins of Practice.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48(3): 334–48.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2014. “Gender Stereotypes, Candidate Evaluations, and Voting for Women Candidates: What Really Matters?Political Research Quarterly 67(1): 96107.
Dolan, Paul, Kavetsos, Georgios, Krekel, Christian, Mavridis, Dimitris, Metcalfe, Robert, Senik, Claudia, Szymanski, Stefan, and Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2016. “The Host with the Most? The Effects of the Olympic Games on Happiness.” London School of Economics and Political Science, Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No. 1441, July.
Driessens, Olivier. 2013. “The Celebritization of Society and Culture: Understanding the Structural Dynamics of Celebrity Culture.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 16(6): 641–57.
Duke, Vic. 2002. “Local Tradition versus Globalisation: Resistance to the McDonaldisation and Disneyisation of Professional Football in England.” Football Studies 5(1): 523.
Farrell, Kathleen A., Karels, Gordon V., Monfort, Kenneth W., and McClatchey, Christine A.. 2000. “Celebrity Performance and Endorsement Value: The Case of Tiger Woods.” Managerial Finance 26(7): 115.
Fechtig, Beate. 1995. Frauen und Fußball. Berlin: Ebersbach & Simon.
Fiske, John. 1987. Television Culture. London: Routledge.
Frank, Robert H. and Cook., Philip J. 1996. Winner Take All Society: Why the Few At the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us . New York: Penguin.
Friedman, Uri. 2014. “Why Americans Call Soccer ‘Soccer’: The British started it.” The Atlantic, June 13.
Frosdick, Steve and Marsh, Peter. 2013. Football Hooliganism. London: Routledge.
Galeano, Eduardo. 2003. Soccer in the Sun and Shadow. New York: Verso.
Garthwaite, Craig and Moore, Timothy J.. 2013. “Can Celebrity Endorsements Affect Political Outcomes? Evidence from the 2008 US Democratic Presidential Primary.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 29(2): 355–84.
Gilens, Martin and Page, Benjamin I.. 2014. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics 12(3): 564–81.
Ginsburgh, Victor and Noury, Abdul G.. 2008. “The Eurovision Song Contest: Is Voting Political or Cultural?European Journal of Political Economy 24(1): 4152.
Giulianotti, Richard. 1999. Football: A Sociology of the Global Game. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Giulianotti, Richard. 2002. “Supporters, Followers, Fans and Flaneurs: A Taxonomy of Spectator Identities in Football.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 26(1): 2546.
Giulianotti, Richard. 2005. “Sport Spectators and the Social Consequences of Commodification: Critical Perspectives from Scottish Football.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 29(4): 386410.
Goldblatt, David. 2008. The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer . New York: Penguin/Riverhead Books.
Green, Donald, Palmquist, Bradley, and Schickler, Eric. 2002. Partisan Hearts and Minds . New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.
Greene, Steven. 1999. “Understanding Party Identification: A Social Identity Approach.” Political Psychology 20(2): 393403.
Healy, Andrew J., Malhotra, Neil, and Mo, Cecilia Hyunjung. 2010. “Irrelevant Events Affect Voters’ Evaluations of Government Performance.” PNAS July, 107(29): 12804–09.
Hornby, Nick. 1992. Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life . London: Gollancz.
Horne, John, Tomlinson, Alan, Whannel, Garry, and Woodward, Kath. 1999. Understanding Sport: An Introduction to the Sociological and Cultural Analysis of Sport. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
Huddy, Leonie, Mason, Lilliana, and Aarøe, Lene. 2015. “Expressive Partisanship: Campaign Involvement, Political Emotion, and Partisan Identity.” American Political Science Review 109(1): 117.
Hutchings, Vincent L. and Valentino., Nicholas A. 2004. “The Centrality of Race in American Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 7: 383408.
Iyengar, Shanto, Sood, Gaurav, and Lelkes, Yphtach. 2012. “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective On Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76(3): 405–31.
Kavetsos, Georgios and Szymanski, Stefan. 2010. “National Well-Being and International Sports Events.” Journal of Economic Psychology 31(2): 158–71.
Kittilson, Miki Caul. 2006. Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments: Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe . Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Kuper, Simon. 1994. Football Against the Enemy. London: Orion.
Kuper, Simon and Szymanski, Stefan. 2018. Soccernomics. New York: Nation Books.
Lawless, Jennifer L. and Fox, Richard L.. 2004. “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office.” American Journal of Political Science 48(2): 264–80.
Lawrence, Regina G. and Boydstun, Amber E.. 2017. “Celebrities as Political Actors and Entertainment as Political Media.” In How Political Actors Use the Media: A Functional Analysis of the Media’s Role in Politics, eds. Van Aelst, Peter and Walgrave, Stefaan, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lenz, Gabriel S. 2012. Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Performance and Policies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Leeper, Thomas J. and Slothuus, Rune. 2014. “Political Parties, Motivated Reasoning, and Public Opinion FormationPolitical Psychology 35(1): 129–56.
Lupia, Arthur. 2016. Uninformed: Why People Know So Little About Politics and What We Can Do About It. New York: Oxford University Press.
Markovits, Andrei S. and Rensmann., Lars 2010. Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Marsh, David, Hart, Paul ‘t, and Tindall, Karen. 2010. “Celebrity Politics: The Politics of the Late Modernity?Political Studies Review 8(3): 322–40.
Marshall, P. David. 2014. Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Marshall, P. David. 2015. “Celebrity and Public Persona.” Oxford Bibliographies in Communication. New York: Oxford University Press.
Miguel, Edward, Saiegh, Sebastián M., and Satyanath, Shanker. 2011. “Civil War Exposure and Violence.” Economics & Politics 23(1): 5973.
Morgan, Simon. 2011. “Celebrity: Academic ‘Pseudo-Event’ or a Useful Concept for Historians?Cultural and Social History 8(1): 95114.
Nownes, Anthony J. 2012. “An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of Celebrity Support for Political Parties in the United States.” American Politics Research 40(3): 476500.
Partzsch, Lena. 2015. “The Power of Celebrities in Global Politics.” Celebrity Studies 6(2): 178–-91.
Partzsch, Lena. 2017. “Powerful Individuals in a Globalised World.” Global Policy 8(1): 513.
Partzsch, Lena. 2018. “Take Action Now: The Legitimacy of Celebrity Power in International Relations.” Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations 24(2): 229–48.
Pease, Andrew and Brewer, Paul R.. 2008. “The Oprah Factor: The Effects of a Celebrity Endorsement in a Presidential Primary Campaign.” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 13(4): 386400.
Prior, Markus. 2005. “News vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout.” American Journal of Political Science 49(3): 577–92.
Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sala, Brian R., Scott, John T., and Spriggs, James F.. 2007. “The Cold War on Ice: Constructivism and the Politics of Olympic Figure Skating Judging.” Perspectives on Politics 5(1): 1729.
Scannell, Paddy. 2014. Television and the Meaning of Live . Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Smart, Barry. 2005. The Sport Star: Modern Sport and the Cultural Economy of Sporting Celebrity . London: Sage.
Spierdijk, Laura and Vellekoop, Michel. 2009. “The Structure of Bias in Peer Voting Systems: Lessons From the Eurovision Song Contest.” Empirical Economics 36(2): 403–25.
Street, John. 2004. “Celebrity Politicians: Popular Culture and Political Representation.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 6(4): 435–52.
Street, John. 2012. “Do Celebrity Politics and Celebrity Politicians Matter?British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14(4): 346–56.
Street, John. 2018. “What Is Donald Trump? Forms of ‘Celebrity’ in Celebrity Politics.” Political Studies Review 17(1): 313.
Street, John, Inthorn, Sanna, and Scott, Martin. 2015. From Entertainment to Citizenship: Politics and Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Taylor, Ian. 1971. “Soccer Consciousness and Soccer Hooliganism.” In Images of Deviance, ed. Cohen, Stanley, 134163. Harmondsworth, UK: Pelican.
Tsaliki, Liza, Frangonikolopoulos, Christos A., and Huliaras, Asteris, eds, 2011. Transnational Celebrity Activism in Global Politics: Changing the World? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Turner, Graeme. 2004. Understanding Celebrity. London: Sage.
Turner, Graeme. 2010. “Approaching Celebrity Studies.” Celebrity Studies 1(1): 1120.
Weber, Max. 1978/1922. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press.
West, Darrell M. and Orman, John M.. 2003. Celebrity Politics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Whannel, Garry. 1992. Fields in Vision: Television Sport and Cultural Transformation . London: Routledge.
Whannel, Garry. 1998. “Individual Stars and Collective Identities in Media Sport.” Sport, Popular Culture and Identity, vol. 5 , ed. Roche, Maurice, 2336. Aachen, Germany: Meyer & Meyer.
Wheeler, Mark. 2013. Celebrity Politics: Image and Identity in Contemporary Political Communications . Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Williams, Jean. 2003. A Game for Rough Girls: The History of Women’s Football in Britain . London, Routledge.
Wilson, Jonathan. 2013. Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics . New York: Nation Books.
Wood, Matthew, Corbett, Jack, and Flinders, Matthew. 2016. “Just Like Us: Everyday Celebrity Politicians and the Pursuit of Popularity in an Age of Anti-Politics.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 18(3): 581–98.
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Anderson et al. Dataset

Supplementary materials

Anderson et al. supplementary material
Appendices A-D

 Word (122 KB)
122 KB

Messi, Ronaldo, and the Politics of Celebrity Elections: Voting for the Best Soccer Player in the World

  • Christopher J. Anderson, Luc Arrondel, André Blais, Jean-François Daoust, Jean-François Laslier and Karine Van der Straeten...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed