Celebrities making waves in political waters
What do Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian all have in common? Besides being interwoven into the web of drama that spurred from the 2009 VMAs debacle, all three of these international stars have recently created an online firestorm after making their political views known via social media. In a society so desperate for a change, countless public figures from both ends of the political spectrum have taken to Twitter and Instagram to voice their sentiments on our current political climate.
Despite major discrepancies between their views, Kardashian and West have both met with President Donald Trump on separate occasions and posted about their political agendas, leading to media coverage that clogs timelines for weeks. The vessel that is social media has allowed celebrities to influence not only fans’ and followers’ fashion choices and shopping habits, but also their political decisions. As controversial policy proposals continue to arise from the Trump administration, such as restrictions on illegal immigration and a policy to legally define sex as determined by genitalia at birth, dozens of celebrities have urged their audiences to exercise their right to vote in November.
So, what impact does this really have on the midterm elections?
In many cases, stars use their social leverage to encourage voter turnout. On Sunday, Oct. 7, Swift announced her support for Tennessee’s Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and House of Representatives candidate Jim Cooper via Instagram. In the caption of her post, the star said, “Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values,” followed by a link to Vote.org.
According to Business Insider, the site saw an influx of 65,000 new voters nationwide within the 24 hours after her post. Analysts attribute this increase directly to Swift’s statements, which were the first politicized comments she’d made in her career. Trump even told reporters that he liked Swift’s music “about 25 percent less” since the star denounced Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn.
Conversely, West made waves after showing his support for Trump on Twitter, featuring his redesigned Make America Great Again hat. In a controversial interview with TMZ in April, West was criticized for his stance on slavery and questioned about his political leanings. The media spectacle led to a multifaceted discussion of politics and the role black men play in democracy. Kanye’s comments were paradoxical, and their effects were just as much so. According to a Reuters poll of black men’s approval rating of Trump before and after West’s comments, their approval went from 11 percent to 22 percent within a week.
However, this isn’t necessarily reflective of real voters. In terms of Democratic voting blocs, black people make up one of the country’s most powerful. Political scientist Ismail White found that social pressure to conform amongst black people bolsters their support for Democratic candidates. “Black people are surrounded by black Democrats, so they vote like black Democrats. And when they don’t, they get checked,” said Gene Demby of NPR’s “Code Switch.” In West’s situation, he faced swift confrontation from friends like Chance the Rapper and John Legend after the fiasco. In fact, West tweeted on Wednesday, Oct. 31, that he has “been used to send messages [he doesn’t] believe in.” His views aren’t popular among black voters, and they probably didn’t directly encourage a legitimate increase in Republican support.
In light of the current political climate and the pedestal on which the media places celebrities, any and all politicized posts made by stars will become news just hours after they click send. Their influence hovers over many trends and persists over time, which gives their words much more weight. When Swift urges her fans to vote, they will – and she knows it. When celebrities use their power to make change, their audiences will follow suit.