Can Taylor Swift save the Democrats?
The superstar singer is heading to Perth, but she is still making waves in the US
Hours after she walked offstage in Texas last weekend, Taylor Swift posted on Instagram an image of her joyously dancing onstage in a sparkly rainbow dress. “We had an indescribably incredible time with you Dallas,” she wrote to her 112 million followers, one million of whom “liked” the photo.
Less than 24 hours later, Swift posted again on Instagram. And this one caused an Internet meltdown.
Swift, the pop megastar who launched her career in Nashville, Tennessee, had remained conspicuously silent about her political views. That was until Sunday night, when she published a 400-word message in which she endorsed Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper. She also slammed Republican Marsha Blackburn, writing, “Her voting record in Congress appals and terrifies me.”
It was a shocking shift for a star who has refused to share her opinion on anything political, even during the divisiveness of the 2016 presidential election. She has even been criticised for glossing over current events — last January, her tweet during the Women’s March (“So much love, pride and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day”) resulted in a backlash from those who wondered why a star who made feminism a significant part of her brand didn’t join fellow celebrities at the march, or elaborate further.
So what led to this abrupt turnaround? The common thinking is that Swift stayed silent for so long because she didn’t want to alienate anyone, particularly her country fan base, which probably leans conservative.
However, now that Swift is officially in the pop world and selling out stadiums, many feel a political stance is unlikely to spark a hugely negative reaction.
Those who follow Swift know that she’s long supported various causes. She helped pop star Kesha pay her legal bills in her sexual assault lawsuit. She donated money to the student-led March for Our Lives rally to stop mass shootings. At her concert in Chicago in June, she gave a speech about LGBTQ rights for Pride Month.
But this time, Swift tied it all together in a forceful statement. “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she wrote. “I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country.”
Two years ago, Democrats turned million-dollar performances by pop icons such as Beyonce, Jay-Z, Pharrell, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi and Katy Perry into zero votes. It is possible Swift might be different, and here’s why.
For almost a generation, millennials have shown that while they may not have enough trust or faith in institutions and politicians to vote in the same proportions as older generations, they are not apathetic. Millennials and the older members of Generation Z have turned to community service and volunteer work to solve the nation’s problems.
Swift, who is 28, has shrewdly created a bridge to voting from that established commitment to volunteer. Her Instagram post singled out specific issues that millennials like her care about and connected them to
Democratic congressional candidates in her home State of Tennessee, and cited a voter registration website.
Vote.org, the website she linked to, reported nearly as many new Tennessee registrants in the 36 hours after the singer’s post as in the entire month of September, and more than double the number from August.
A causal link has not been established, but there’s a pretty good chance that at least some of that spike is attributable to Swift. She has built a relationship of admiration and mutual respect with a social media following that is three times the size of President Donald Trump’s.
If Step 1 was getting her fans to register, Step 2 is encouraging them to vote.
In her post, Swift outlined the issues that drew her into the political arena after a lifetime spent determinedly outside it.
She also connected her “Tennessee values” to critical votes that a member of Congress takes, chipping away at one of the most significant barriers to voting, which is seeing the tangible impact that participation can make.
Young voters in Tennessee can stand with Swift, for example, when she supports candidates who will fight for “ALL Americans, no matter their skin colour, gender or who they love”, as she wrote in her post. Swift said that Republican candidate Blackburn “voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry”.
Therefore, Swift wrote, she would be voting for former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives.
The make-up of the House and Senate this year and the White House in 2020 very much lies in the hands of millennials.
Six of the top 20 millennial markets are in the toss-up states of Texas and Florida. North Dakota, also in play, has the highest increase in millennial population per capita of any state since 2010.
Swift already stands out from her peers as having the most politically diverse fan base among young Americans.
You would not bet against her helping register, empower and activate just enough of them to make a difference in the November midterm elections, both for them and for the country.