It’s Taylor, stupid: the increasing relevance of celebrities in US politics

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When Bill Clinton ran for US president in 1992, one of his advisors coined the slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Twenty years later, and the most recent fight in the upcoming presidential election has turned away from economic values with the two parties appearing to be more concerned with fighting over the political endorsement of global popstar Taylor Swift. The race for the role of the world’s most important political leader has become centred around celebrity opinion. 

Among the usual cultural frenzy surrounding the build-up to the NFL’s Super Bowl, an unexpected narrative arose from amongst the American right-wing: that the game had been rigged by the Democratic party in order to gain a political endorsement for President Joe Biden from Taylor Swift on live TV. 

In January, Republican politician and Donald Trump supporter Vivek Ramaswamy came out on social media with the claim “I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month. And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall”. Mr Ramaswamy declared that the reason that the Kansas City Chiefs had gained a spot in the match was due to their player Travis Kelce’s relationship with Swift and the inevitable extensive media coverage that would come with such a star attending an event that is so intrinsic to American culture. According to Mr Ramaswamy and other Republicans, the Democrats had conspired with the couple and the NFL to create a situation that would allow Swift to deliver her personal endorsement for Biden in front of the nation. 

Trump argues that Swift owes him her endorsement due to the financial benefits that she will have enjoyed form the Music Modernization Act

Republican presidential candidate Trump also weighed into the issue hours before the start of the match, telling Swift not to endorse Biden, saying she should not be “disloyal to the man who made her so much money”. Trump argues that Swift owes him her endorsement due to the financial benefits that she will have enjoyed from the Music Modernization Act, legislation he claims credit for. However, despite considerable media coverage of her attendance on Sunday, Swift failed to make any such political statement for either side, maintaining her silence throughout the start of the 2024 presidential race. 

This is the latest event in a now long-running fight to gain the popstar’s political backing. In the 2020 elections Swift came out in support of a presidential candidate for the first time in her career; making a statement in favour of Biden and urging her fans to follow her lead. 

It could be argued that the Republican’s accusations are coming in response and fear to the Democratic party’s apparent targeting of Swift for a second Biden endorsement. With Swift’s political history it is expected that she will continue her Democratic stance, but for many it is now a matter of whether the star will decide to make a statement, or, as she has done in the past, keep firmly quiet about her vote. 

Republicans are more anxious than ever to garner her support and, failing that, are arguably using the conspiracy theory to discredit her support for the Democrats. This raises the question of why is it so important that presidential candidates gain the public support of a celebrity that until recently was firmly removed from the political scene? 

Swift’s cultural reach is something that both parties are urgently trying to tap in to

Despite her unparalleled career and sustained cultural popularity, Taylor Swift was long known for holding silence on political debates and issues, claiming that being part of the country music scene had taught her that you “don’t force your politics on people. Let people live their lives.” This changed in 2018, when the star publicly spoke out against Marsha Blackburn, a Republican running for Midterm election in Swift’s native Tennessee. Although Blackburn went on to win the election, the influence of Swift’s opinion was enough for Vote.org to report more than 51,000 new registrations in the 24 hours after her statement – more than had been recorded in the previous month. 

With 55% of the American population proclaiming to be fans of Swift, her cultural influence has long been unparalleled. Since breaking her public neutrality in 2018, her impact has been undeniably consequential: last year a single Instagram post on National Voter Registration Day garnered over 35,000 new registrations. Although it is less likely that Swift has the control to sway the opinion of a deciding number of voters, she has been able to play a huge role in gaining the interest and action of new voters.  

We are no longer living in a world where politics are played out in traditional media

This cultural reach is something that both parties are urgently trying to tap into, and it is celebrities like Swift that have the key. We are no longer living in a world where politics are played out in traditional media. Instead, battles over global issues and even presidential roles are found online. 

Older candidates like Biden and Trump are striving to maintain relevance and appeal to the younger generations whose lives are lived through social media. Swift, with her 280 million Instagram followers and cult-like following of young adults is the perfect candidate to act as spokesperson and campaigner. It is crucial that Swift’s political influence is not underestimated: with such a fanatical following that have grown up hanging onto her every word, she may yet have the power to influence the next generation into political activity. The only question is if she will break her silence and speak now.  

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