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To what extent can Taylor Swift influence the 2024 presidential elections?

The singer, a mass phenomenon with 300 million followers on social media, has, in the past, mobilized her fans to go to the polls in support of the Democrats. Republicans have already started to criticize her

Taylor Swift elecciones primarias USA
Taylor Swift at the theatrical premiere of her concert 'The Eras Tour,' in Los Angeles on October 11, 2023.MARIO ANZUONI (REUTERS)
María Porcel

“It won’t be [the assault on the Capitol on] Jan. 6, it won’t be the election fraud or the sexual assault or dancing with Jeffrey Epstein, or even fathering Don Jr. What’s finally going to bring down Donald Trump will be an army of pissed-off Swifties.” Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue this past week was supposed to be a joke. But, in actuality, it was much, much more than a joke. Because it contains many of the key factors that will mark the U.S. presidential elections on November 5.

There are nine months left until Americans go to the polls, but the campaign is already more than heated. And there’s a paradoxical panorama: the faceoff for the White House is as repetitive as it is unprecedented. Two white men — each of whom has already been president — will contest the election. The incumbent, 81-year-old Joe Biden, has an approval rating of less than 40%. Only Jimmy Carter had a worse rating upon seeking re-election. The challenger, Donald Trump, will be 77 by November, with nearly 100 criminal accusations in various cases pending against him.

In an extremely polarized country, caught somewhere between malaise and extreme anger, there’s a figure who stands out: that of Taylor Swift, the 34-year-old singer, songwriter and mass phenomenon. She is Time magazine’s person of the year (the first in the entertainment world to achieve this feat) and a billionaire. No, Swift isn’t running for the White House, but she has 300 million very loyal followers on social media… people she wields a lot of influence over. But does she have enough sway to shift an electoral result? That’s a different story entirely.

No official polls have been conducted, but history tells us that Swift — who is currently immersed in a tour of 150 concerts in more than 40 cities around the world — has a lot to say. And whatever she says, and how she says it, will be analyzed and scrutinized, like everything else she does.

Swift’s influence may be enormous, but this doesn’t mean she’s going to tell her fans — those who listen to her music — which box to check on a ballot. “If you support a candidate, is that going to change your fans’ way of thinking? No. It’s highly unlikely,” says Alexander Theodoridis, a professor of political science at Amherst University in Massachusetts. He’s an expert on political polarization, who spoke with EL PAÍS in a telephone interview. “What she will do is make her enthusiasm [for a candidate] known and spread it among her fans. Let them make donations, let them be volunteers. And to her fan base — which is disproportionately female and young — she’ll say: ‘hey, you guys have to be excited.’ And that enthusiasm is going to make a difference.”

That enthusiasm will certainly make the difference in its moment, which may still be some time away. Back in October of 2020, just weeks before the elections, Swift showed off some cookies with the name “Joe Biden” written on them in frosting. Although there’s still a long way to go, Biden’s team is eager for her support again, as The New York Times revealed last week. Meanwhile, the Republicans have already thrown her to the wolves. Either they don’t like her or they fear her, but they’ve already claimed that the fact that Swift is going to the Super Bowl, where her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, will play on February 11, is apparently a supreme attempt at manipulation to encourage the electorate to vote for Biden.

This theory quickly falls apart. The Chiefs have gotten there on their own… as they already did in 2020 and 2023, when they won. And Swift won’t sing at half time (Usher will), while Biden has nothing to do with the whole sports spectacle. But facts don’t matter to the Republicans, who haven’t hesitated to bring up the name of one of the most popular artists in the world.

What’s perfectly clear is that Republicans fear and despise her. They don’t like having to face a relatively young, rich, successful woman with a tailor-made career who lives the way she wants. “She succeeds with her songs, but she’s also an inspiration, because she says: ‘Not everyone likes what I do, but I do it anyways.’ She shows that you don’t always have to agree with society, that you can make mistakes and do things your own way. Plus, not all celebrities control their own business: she does. There are even courses to understand her power,” explains Alejandra Rosales Soto, PhD from the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, and full-time research professor in business administration at CETYS University, campus of Tijuana, Mexico, where she is specialized in technological innovation. The power of the Pennsylvanian is real: in September, on her Instagram Stories, she called on her fans to register to vote. In less than 24 hours, she achieved 35,000 registrations.

Rosales Soto has analyzed that around 55% of Swift’s followers are Democrats, 23% are independents, while around 20% or so could be Republicans. “Two former presidents are facing each other. Here, it will be decided who’s the least bad, where’s the least negativity… the election won’t focus on the positive aspects,” the professor affirms. “No one loves either of them. And people already know that [Swift] is a Democrat, so she’s going to invite them to have a voice… young people aren’t voting and she’s going to invite them to mobilize.”

Dr. Andrea Godfrey Flynn, a professor of marketing at the University of San Diego, agrees with this assessment. “She’ll definitely inspire fans on her side of the political spectrum to get out and vote and support the candidates she endorses. Voters — especially younger voters — tend to be driven to vote based on issues more than loyalty to a candidate. Taylor Swift could have even more impact on the 2024 campaign if she shares her position on issues, especially issues that impact young women… she doesn’t just have to make candidate endorsements.”

People already know that [Swift] is a Democrat, so she’s going to invite them to have a voice… young people aren’t voting and she’s going to invite them to mobilize.
Alejandra Rosales Soto, professor in business administration specializing in technological innovation

Swift’s political voice wasn’t heard until well into her career, even though she has spent more than half of her life on stage. In the 2016 elections, she didn’t speak out (her mother was suffering from breast cancer and she was engaged in a verbal battle with Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and certain media outlets). However, in 2018, she endorsed two Tennessee Democrats in the midterm elections, getting more than 160,000 people to register to vote. In 2019, in an interview with The Guardian, she expressed her support for abortion rights — “Obviously, I’m pro-choice” — and accused Trump of being a dictator: “We’re a democracy — at least, we’re supposed to be — where you’re allowed to disagree, dissent, debate. I really think that he thinks this is an autocracy.”

In October 2020, she openly showed her support for Biden and Kamala Harris, posting a photo of cookies with their names written on them. She also gave an interview in V Magazine where she explained her reasoning: “Under their leadership, I believe America has a chance to start the healing process it so desperately needs.”

Trump has never liked Swift; when she supported the Tennessee Democrats, he said that he had started to like her music “25% less.” Now, several American media outlets claim that he privately boasts of being much more popular than Swift. “Who is he kidding?” Kimmel continued, in his midweek monologue. “If Donald Trump held a rally at SoFi Stadium here in L.A., they would still have enough empty seats to also hold a Taylor Swift concert that night. And unlike [Trump’s] rallies, her tickets aren’t free.”

Swift sold out SoFi for six nights in August: there, she was seen by more than 420,000 spectators. In total, more than four million fans have seen her during The Eras Tour… and she has only done 66 concerts. She still has another 85 left until November. According to the Federal Reserve, her performances will inject about $5 billion in the US economy.

But does all of this make her an influencer for her almost 100 million fans on X and her 300 million followers on Instagram? “Influencers don’t present themselves as such, but as content generators, the term ‘influencer’ often has a negative connotation,” Rosales Soto explains. “And she’s clearly a generator of content, music, documentaries. Her influence is clear and she will be clear with her vote. She’s an inspiration for young people, of empowerment, with a message that you should be yourself. She doesn’t care what people think. Plus, she doesn’t [speak out] in an aggressive way. She proves that being smart is okay.”

Dr. Wael Jabr, a professor of information systems at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, has no doubts. “She’s an influencer,” he says. “Her messages, political or not, will certainly shape her fanbase’s opinions. Think about it: she started commenting about football and, soon afterwards, sales of Kansas City Chiefs jerseys went up. So, yes, she’ll have an impact. And when she decides to send political messages — as she has done in the past — it will shape opinions.”

“Predictions expect that political advertising will reach a record-breaking $16 billion during the 2024 campaigns,” Godfrey Flynn adds. “It will be nearly impossible to cut through that noise. With her non-stop press coverage and massive social media following, Swift’s message could be a rare voice that can rise above the din of traditional media ads. Swift may have more impact on the campaign if she shares her stance on [specific policy] issues — especially on issues that impact young women — and not as much [about] a specific candidate.”

As can happen with celebrities, Swift isn’t so much able to change the minds of her fans. Rather, she can help encourage followers who weren’t clear about their political stance, or who weren’t clear about who to vote for. “In a two-party system, this is inevitable,” Theodoridis notes. “I don’t see many Republicans [not] supporting Trump, even with his conspiracies about the NFL and about Swift being a Pentagon agent and things like that. But I do think Democrats lack enthusiasm. Election results have been incredibly close over the past 25 years, being resolved by just a few votes in a few states. And there are many young women who weren’t going to show up [at the polls] and who will now support one or the other. Here, anything small matters.” According to data from Rosales Soto, almost half of the artist’s fans are women between the ages of 27 and 45… a key demographic in the vote.

With her non-stop press coverage and massive social media following, Swift’s message could be a rare voice that can rise above the din of traditional media ads
Andrea Godfrey Flynn, professor of marketing at the University of San Diego

The Republicans who are attacking Swift may be shooting themselves in the foot. Trumpist anger is burning — something that alienates more moderate voters. Taking their rage out on Swift may not be a good idea. “It’s difficult to explain the level of unease that has emerged against Swift among conservatives, but there are several factors [involved]. She’s dating Travis Kelce [and] conservative NFL fans are upset by the couple’s media attention. He has appeared in advertisements for the Pfizer Covid vaccine… vaccines are controversial for conservatives,” Godfrey Flynn notes. She also believes that — as he’s a well-known football player and she’s a billionaire mega-artist — it’s a “non-traditional dynamic that doesn’t sit well with conservatives. It’s crazy to see these perceptions run wild.”

In a country with extreme polarization, every element and message in these elections will be analyzed… even more so everything that comes from Swift. Only she — who manages her career and her public image to the extreme — knows what her message will be, if she decides to throw her support behind Biden. And if she does, her impact will be real, according to experts.

In July 2023, at a concert in Seattle, Swift caused the ground to shake at the same level as a 2.3 magnitude earthquake. If she decides to comment on politics, we can expect an even bigger earthquake come November.

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift in New York in October 2023.
Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift in New York in October 2023.MEGA (GC Images)

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