CMU Opinion

Will Taylor Swift’s entry into politics swing the mid-term elections?

By | Published on Friday 12 October 2018

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift wrote something on Instagram at the beginning of this week, and my if it hasn’t been the talk of the town ever since. All she did was say who she plans to vote for in the upcoming US mid-term elections, and then urge others to make their own informed decisions when voting.

In a lengthy Instagram caption, Swift explained that she would not be voting for sitting Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn in her home state of Tennessee.

This decision was based on Blackburn’s voting record, she said, writing: “Her voting record in Congress appals and terrifies me. She 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. These are not MY Tennessee values”.

Instead, she said that she would be voting for Democrat candidates Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House Of Representatives, adding: “Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values”.

This was all significant because Swift’s political affiliations have been subject of much scrutiny in the past. She, however, has been reluctant to date to explicitly nail her flag to any mast. Instead, she’s only given coded hints at what her views might be. For example, during the 2016 presidential election, she posted a picture of herself in a queue to vote wearing a top that looked like one Hillary Clinton once wore.

Even in this new post, there are coded messages. She doesn’t mention president Donald Trump or Clinton by name – although she does note that she has “in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office”.

The sense that Swift has political opinions but has chosen not to share them has frustrated many in recent years, particularly since that jumper incident. In 2017, The Guardian published an editorial declaring that her “silence is striking” in the context of other musicians lining up to denounce Trump. It went on to conclude that she “seems not simply a product of the age of Trump, but a musical envoy for the president’s values”.

Bit harsh. She is, after all, perfectly entitled not to air her personal opinions on any matter. And it’s not like celebrities sharing their political views is something routinely welcomed by the general public. As a musician who crossed over from country into pop, she’s no doubt aware of what happened to The Dixie Chicks.

She referenced all this in her Instagram post, saying: “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 went on: “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. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of colour is terrifying, sickening and prevalent”.

By not previously airing her opinions, others have been able to make assumptions about what they might be. And another thing that her post also seems to make coded reference to is the weird ‘alt-right’ cult that has built up around her. Since before the 2016 election, some on the far right have also reached the same conclusions to that Guardian editorial.

She has been called an “Aryan goddess” pushing a white supremacist agenda through her songs by far right blog The Daily Stormer, according to Vice’s Broadly. It predicted that she was waiting for a time she felt safe to announce her true political views. They were right about that, but not about the views she’d announce.

The blog previously said: “It is also an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is simply waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come out and announce her Aryan agenda to the world. Probably, she will be betrothed to Trump’s son, and they will be crowned American royalty”.

Her continued coyness in the political domain did nothing to counter or stop the spread of these theories in recent years. Nor the regular right-wing interpretations of her lyrics. Nor the accusations of racism.

Swift finally and explicitly distancing herself from the alt-right conspiracy theorists, and stating her views in general, drew praise from many. Although she, of course, came in for criticism too. On both sides, some suggested that Swift was attempting to throw the upcoming election in favour of the Democrats.

Former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, tweeted that Swift “has every right to be political but it won’t impact election unless we allow thirteen old girls to vote”. Although as Swift is already almost fifteen years into her career, he may find that not to be the case, she having a fanbase somewhat wider than he seems to think. After all, the 72 year old Donald Trump is a fan. Less of a fan now, but still a fan.

Asked for his view on Swift’s political comments this week, he said he didn’t know what she’d said, but after being given the gist, he confirmed that he likes her “music about 25% less now”.

He also said that he was “sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about” Marsha Blackburn. Although, had he read the Instagram post before commenting, he would be aware of Swift’s detailed breakdown of Blackburn’s voting record. You kind of hope politicians will do their research before commenting on things. But then, Donald Trump isn’t really a politician. Either way, finding out that she doesn’t support one of his team only affected Trump’s fandom by 25%, which suggests he’s still pretty into her music.

Elsewhere, though, there were fans for whom Swift’s political remarks had had a much bigger impact on their fandom. Some took to social media to announce that they were now planning to destroy any of her CDs and merch that were in their possession. Not least because they felt that she’d tricked them into believing that she was a Republican, only for it to turn out that she’s in favour of equal rights for all and shit like that.

The other elephant in the room, if you want, is Kanye West. Swift emerges as a Democrat just as West is doubling down on his support for Trump. As well as using his recent appearance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ to firmly give his backing to the president, last night he had a slightly weird love in with Trump himself at the White House.

It may be wishful thinking to suggest that Swift has decided to go public on politics now just to be the anti-Kanye. The timing is right for that theory, but then there are elections looming. If anyone’s going to talk politics, now is the time. Still, that time he interrupted her MTV Music Video Awards acceptance speech in 2009 remains a sticking point for many, nearly a decade later. Her too? Maybe. Maybe we’ll get a definitive answer if West makes good on his threats to run for the Presidency himself.

Going back to Swift’s Instagram post, it’s worth noting that she doesn’t actually come down in favour of any one political party overall. She says that she’s voting against one specific politician for a number of specific reasons. “For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway”, she says. She doesn’t rule out voting Republican in the future.

The key thrust of her post was actually urging people to vote, whatever their affiliation. And to do so after making themselves aware of the facts.

Buzzfeed subsequently claimed that Swift’s post had “caused a massive spike in voter registration”. A spokesperson for said: “We are up to 65,000 registrations in a single 24 hour period since T Swift’s post”. Which means that in one day in October the number of new voters registering was about a third of the number who registered in the whole of September. And 7000 more than the total number of registrations in August.

That is pretty impressive. Although did then admit that it couldn’t be certain Swift was behind the entire spike. It said in a new statement to Slate: “Can it be attributed to Swift? Not directly, unfortunately. We’re only able to track registrations directly if we work with someone in advance and they use a special link”. But it did then say that registrations this month have been unusually high. Still, this is an unusual presidency and people are unusually concerned with politics.

Bolstered by her new status as a political musician, Swift used her appearance at the American Music Awards this week to again tell everyone how great voting can be. Accepting the Artist Of The Year prize, she said: “Every single time this happens it represents encouragement and motivation for me to be better, work harder, and try and make you guys proud. [I want to] mention the fact that this award, and every single award given out tonight, were voted on by the people. And you know what else is voted on by the people? The midterm elections on 6 Nov – get out and vote. I love you guys”.

We’ll see in a few weeks what the outcome of the mid-terms is. If there’s a massive swing towards the Democrats in Congress, many will probably attribute it to Swift. Although doing so will sort of discount everything else that’s happened in the last couple of years (not to mention the last couple of weeks).