With the November midterm congressional elections fast approaching, a number of entertainment icons are hefting their star status and huge social-media reach to rally their fans to storm the polls.
Taylor Swift made headlines this past week as the latest celebrity to step into the political ring. In a lengthy Instagram post Sunday, the previously apolitical celebrity pop star said she could no longer stay silent. Swift endorsed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, saying his Republican rival Rep. Marsha Blackburn has a voting record that “appalls and terrifies” her. She encouraged her 112 million followers to register to vote.
Following Swift’s post, voter registration on Vote.org surged, particularly among millennials, Roll Call reported. Just a few days into October, the website had seen more registrations than any other month in 2018. More than 159,000 voters registered since Sunday, with 45 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 24. In a statement, Vote.org said Swift’s post might have “pushed many of those 18-24-year-old voters over the line to register.”
Not too long ago, mixing politics with stardom could be a potentially lethal career move. In 2003, lead Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines criticized then-President George W. Bush for his plans to invade Iraq. Fans responded by burning the band’s CDs, and radio stations blacklisted their music.
But the tide has turned in recent years to favor progressive views. Rapper Kanye West became the subject of much online scorn after a meeting Thursday in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump. West deleted his social media accounts earlier this week after facing backlash for supporting Trump in an off-air speech he gave on the set of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Meanwhile, liberal-leaning celebrities discuss politics on award shows, show up at protests, and air their thoughts on social networks without fear of career-ending retribution. Some conservative fans expressed their disappointment with Swift’s statements, but the president rather mildly said he liked her music about “25 percent less now.”
Other stars, including Rihanna, Mark Ruffalo, John Legend, and Mark Hamill, have also taken to social media to urge their fans to register and cast their ballots in November. “VOTE like our future depends on it!” Legend urged.
Compared to presidential elections, voter turnout slumps during midterms. In the 2014 election, around 41 percent of eligible voters took the polls, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The bureau reported about 61.4 percent said they voted in 2016, slightly lower than the 61.8 percent who reported voting in 2012.
Some signs point to higher levels of voter engagement this November. The Pew Research Center reported that turnout for 2018 primary elections surged compared to 2014. In House primaries, 19 percent of voters cast ballots, up from 13 percent in 2014. Turnout was also higher across Senate and gubernatorial primaries. This boost in voter enthusiasm may carry over to November.
Young people, particularly young professional women, tend to lean blue, but they also tend to be a notoriously unreliable voting bloc. A study released earlier this year from The Public Religion Research Institute showed that only 28 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 said they will vote in the midterm elections, while 74 percent of seniors said they will vote. A star-studded push from Hollywood icons might finally drive their millennial fans to the polls, but the success of those efforts remains to be seen.