Look what she made them do: Taylor Swift boosts voter registration

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Courtesy of Sofia Buchler/The Occidental
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Singer Taylor Swift published an Instagram post Oct. 7 endorsing Democratic Tennessee senatorial and congressional candidates Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper in anticipation of the upcoming midterm elections in November. Shared to her 112 million followers, the post broke Swift’s streak of remaining apolitical. Swift, a longtime resident of Nashville, TN, urged her followers to register to vote and educate themselves on candidates and issues regarding the upcoming midterm elections.

“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,” Swift wrote in the caption of her post.

In the post, Swift outlined her support for LGBTQIA+ rights and gender and racial equality as the factors for giving her support to Bredesen and Cooper. She also voiced concerns about Republican senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn and her opinions and beliefs regarding women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights.

Swift’s endorsement is not the first time a celebrity has voiced their political opinion. However, Swift may have accomplished something that others have tried and failed to achieve: she may have created change.

Following Swift’s post, voter registration spiked significantly on platforms such as Vote.org. According to The Washington Post, the nonpartisan website experienced approximately 169,000 new registrations in the 48 hours following Swift’s post, more than half of which came from people between the ages of 18 to 29. For reference, Vote.org registered approximately 190,000 voters over the entire month of September. Additionally, Vote.org experienced a boost in unique visitors following Swift’s post, according to a representative from the website. While the site receives an average of 14,078 unique visitors daily, that number jumped to 155,940 in the 24 hours after Swift made the post. While Vote.org cannot confirm a concrete relationship between Swift and the spike — they acknowledge that the website sees spikes as registration deadlines approach — the numbers make Swift’s influence difficult to dismiss.

The strong influx of young voters seemingly runs counter to traditional perceptions of midterm elections. According to information from the U.S. Census, the 2014 midterms marked a 40-year low in terms of turnout among individuals aged 18 to 29. Yet, according to the data, Swift may have managed to mobilize the demographic to a significant degree.

This new wave of voters could prove influential come November, especially in regard to Swift’s own endorsement of senatorial candidate Phil Bredesen. A statement from Vote.org revealed that approximately 5,000 new Tennessee voters registered in the hours following Swift’s post, doubling the number of registrations for the entirety of September. Polling data from FiveThirtyEight places Bredesen close behind Blackburn, and while 5,000 potential voters for Bredesen will not necessarily guarantee his election, they certainly will not hurt his odds (assuming, of course, they follow Swift’s endorsement).

Swift is far from the first celebrity to throw their weight behind candidates and urge people to register, but the results of her actions raise the question of what it takes in 2018 to get people interested and invested in politics. Where civic duty fails, celebrity seemingly succeeds.

Lack of political interest could possibly be a symptom of distrust in the government and media. Information from The Atlantic suggests that approximately a third of Americans trust the government to “do what is right.” A 2016 Gallup poll shows that, at the time of polling, trust in mass media sunk dramatically, with approximately 68 percent of those polled displaying degrees of distrust in the media. With trust in both government and the media collapsing, who can be trusted to deliver the truth? Evidently, Taylor Swift. With 112 million and 84 million people following her Instagram and Twitter accounts respectively, Swift maintains access to an unparalleled large and devoted audience.

While the surge in voter registration suggests that Swift succeeded in mobilizing voters, whether or not it will yield positive results remains ambiguous. Voters may have registered, but they will still need to actually vote. Furthermore, Swift’s endorsement could backfire. Bredesen’s campaign, described as “local and low key” by FiveThirtyEight, has not actively pursued big-name endorsements except from Republicans such as Senator Bob Corker. Swift’s support may have the best of intentions but could prove damaging to a candidate keen on swaying right-leaning voters and interested in presenting a grounded persona.

In the grand scheme, Swift’s actions have, to a degree, addressed the national issue of low voter turnout. Whether or not she will have an effect at the polls Nov. 6 remains to be seen, but in looking at the numbers from Vote.org, it is safe to say that the power of celebrities within the political sphere cannot be understated. Even if Swift’s endorsements fail to carry Bredesen and Cooper to office, she could very well have energized the youth demographic and sparked interest in politics that may otherwise have not existed.