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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Would a Taylor Swift endorsement help Biden’s re-election chances? Experts weigh in

Sparks are flying over Taylor Swift in Washington, D.C., where the prospect of her endorsing President Joe Biden has enhanced White House aides and bred bad blood in some Republicans.

But, is Swift’s influence being overhyped? Or could her superstar seal of approval actually change the calculus of the 2024 election?

It turns out, that celebrities of a certain caliber can indeed have a measurable effect on voter opinion, so the “Blank Space” singer’s power should not be underestimated, academics who research political endorsements told McClatchy News.

“She can sell concerts, movies, and even the NFL,” Jennifer Brubaker, a professor of political communications at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, told McClatchy News.

“There’s no reason to think that wouldn’t translate into selling a candidate too,” Brubaker said.

The power of a Hollywood endorsement

There’s a long history of Hollywood stars throwing their support behind politicians seeking office. Republicans received some of the first major celebrity endorsements in the 1930’s, according to Brubaker, author of “Celebrity and the American Political Process.”

“These producers came along and said ‘Hey, we need help with our film industry, and we can help you make your campaigns flashy and entertaining and get people’s attention,’” Brubaker said.

In the lead-up to the 1960 election, then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kennedy garnered a slew of celebrity endorsements, including from Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, who famously sang ”Happy Birthday” to the young White House hopeful at Madison Square Garden.

“There was a deep Hollywood connection back in 1960,” Richard Groper, a politics professor at California State University in Los Angeles, said. “I think that really kind of gave him an image that really helped him a lot.”

But perhaps the most influential celebrity endorsement came in 2007 when Oprah Winfrey publicly announced her support for then-Sen. Barack Obama ahead of the Democratic primaries, Brubaker said.

Winfrey’s backing is estimated to have been directly responsible for over one million votes for Obama in the hotly contested primary with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to a 2013 study from Northwestern University researchers.

In recent years, as the connection between Hollywood and Washington has grown closer, celebrity endorsements have become more routine, perhaps as a result of social media and political polarization, Brubaker said.

“It’s become much more commonplace for celebrities to be vocal in their politics,” whereas years ago, most kept their political opinions to themselves, Brubaker said.

Swift, she said, is a “great example of this new trend.” She endorsed Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2018 U.S. Senate election in Tennessee, acknowledging that “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.”

The Swift effect

If Swift were to endorse Biden — as she did in 2020 — it’s logical to presume it would have a sizable impact on certain voters, Brubaker said.

Coming off her “Eras” tour, which boosted the economy of cities around the country, she is floating on a cloud of goodwill and at the height of her power, Brubaker said.

A January poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found 18% of voters said they were prone to vote for a candidate endorsed by Swift.

“Swift reaches groups of people, some of whom are not very interested in politics, do not follow traditional news, do not have much political knowledge, but have built up a close relationship with Taylor Swift and trust her,” Christian von Sikorski, a professor of political psychology at University Kaiserslautern-Landau in Germany, told McClatchy News.

Research has shown that people with these strong parasocial ties to public figures can be moved to act, von Sikorski, who studies the effect of celebrities on politics, said.

“With 280 million followers on Instagram alone, there are many of these ‘friends’ of Swift,” von Sikorski said. “This can affect the election, mobilizing younger apolitical people to vote.”

The effect could prove minimal if Swift simply gives a simple endorsement and calls it a day, Groper said. But, if she were to pull out all the stops and campaign for Biden — particularly in swing states — then it’s possible she could sway a significant number of votes.

“That may be enough to sway elections in certain states…because they’re so close,” Groper said.

However, Swift’s endorsement could also have the unintended consequence of motivating undecided voters in the other direction, experts said.

Voters who haven’t made up their minds but lean Republican could see the endorsement as a threat of a Democratic victory and be pushed to vote for Trump, von Sikorski said. The Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll, for example, found that 17% said a Swift endorsement would make them less likely to vote for her supported candidate.

Many people don’t like public figures telling them who to vote for, Groper said, “especially if they’re from Hollywood.”

The buzz over a potential Swift weigh-in also comes at a time endorsements more broadly are losing their power, Groper said.

“Endorsements aren’t that much anymore,” Groper said. “There was a time in which newspaper endorsements mattered; politician endorsements mattered…Institutions don’t have the same respect as they once did.”

Whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis endorses Trump, or the Los Angeles Times endorses Biden, it isn’t likely to change voter opinions today, he said.

“I think people are just a little more cynical now,” Groper said. “But Taylor Swift’s folks may be the exception. Because a lot of them are young — a lot of young and really devoted fans.”

Now, all eyes will be on Swift, waiting to see if she makes an endorsement that could help bring Biden, who is down in multiple polls against Trump, closer to a second term in the White House.

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