On October 2018, weeks before the United States elections, Taylor Swift broke her longstanding policy of keeping quiet about her political beliefs and spoke up in support of Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee. In an Instagram post, she shared that despite her tendency to vote for women in office, she openly spoke against candidate Marsha Blackburn, citing her supposed anti-gay, anti-woman stances which go against her own political beliefs. Taylor then went on share her support for Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper.
This post marked the first time she has shared her voting choices, having refused to say who she voted for in the 2016 presidential elections. Taylor told Time magazine in 2012 that she has kept silent about politics because she believed she was not knowledgeable enough in politics to influence her fans by telling them who she was voting for. Her neutral stance was met with backlash from the liberal community, especially when she tried to show online support for the Women’s March in 2017.
But Taylor’s not new to criticism for both her actions and inactions, and while she gained praise for finally speaking out, her post was met with backlash from white supremacists, Republicans, and even President Donald Trump himself. White supremacists – who see Taylor as the ideal blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman – felt betrayed by her post. Mainstream fans, especially those who sided toward a conservative political stance, said she should have kept quiet about her political beliefs and focus on her music. President Trump tweeted that he liked her music “about 25% less.”
This is not the first time the internet has gone mad about a celebrity choosing to voice out their political beliefs, citing they should stay away from politics. But celebrities are people, too, and with that is the right to talk about politics like everybody else. However, there’s no denying that, unlike everybody else, they have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of fans watching them, some of which idolize them and are influenced easily by what they choose to share. And with that much influence on their fans, should celebrities have a responsibility to keep quiet when it comes to politics?
Celebrities Are Citizens, Too
Celebrities are people, too. While they’re wealthier and more famous than the everyday person, at the end of the day, they’re still affected by the same laws and problems we have. So, it’s only natural that they have political opinions like us. What’s contradictory about the argument that celebrities should stick to acting, singing, modelling or whatever they do instead of politics is that you’re boxing out celebrities to their job with little thought that, just maybe, what they have to say matters.
Saying an actor should stick to acting is like saying a pediatrician can’t share their political opinion with anyone and should stick to babies. Or a construction worker should stick to building. Or a chef should stick to cooking. Following that argument, the only people allowed to have a political opinion would be the politicians and anyone with a degree in Political Science.
The thing is, a celebrity’s job is just a job. They are still real people who will be affected by the results of an election. They shouldn’t have to be forced to keep mum about the political landscape when other people are free to voice their opinions without thought for their job.
Actor Mayim Bialik explains celebrities and politics perfectly in one of her vlogs:
“I received one of my most favorite critical comments, which was, ‘Don’t you have anything more important to think about?’ Are there more important things to think about than the stability of the country I live in and the president of the country that I live in who has the ability to affect the lives of me and millions of people all over the world?”
The problem, she says, may not be that celebrities are speaking up. Rather, it’s the fact that celebrities are speaking up but the people who do not agree with the celebrity’s opinion and believes they should keep quiet to stop that opinion from spreading or gaining credibility. So, celebrities are reduced to superficial people living in ivory towers while producing shallow, baseless opinions despite making informed opinions based on facts while literally everyone else is allowed to share fake news and biased propaganda.
The Responsibility of the Limelight: The Effect of Celebrities on Politics
While celebrities are people too, there’s no denying that they have influence everyday people don’t have. And with that much influence, while they are entitled to their own opinions and are allowed to share their opinion with the rest of the world, they carry the responsibility (which, honestly, should also go for everyone else) of making an informed decision and share an opinion based on facts.
Taylor Swift’s political post encouraged her 112 million followers to register and vote. Less than 48 hours later, there was a surge of over 169,000 new voters registered. In comparison, there were 56,669 voters registered in August and 190,178 voters in September, and a total of 405,149 voters in October. Many would argue this is not because of Taylor’s post, but if you look at the demographics of those 169,000 voters, over half of them were 18 to 24-year-old adults, the same demographic as her fan base.
Most voters won’t be swayed by a celebrity’s opinion. Despite Taylor’s post, Marsha Blackburn won, and in the 2016 Trump won the electoral vote for Ohio and Florida despite these states being the homes of celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, celebrities who openly supported Hilary Clinton.
In terms of influencing who to vote for, a lot of people won’t be swayed to vote for a candidate because they took a picture with their favorite celebrity. But what a celebrity can do to sway votes is to use their reach to provide factual evidence and logical reasons to vote for the politician. While not everyone will sit well with this, it’s the responsible way celebrities can use their influence to share their political opinions.
Celebrities have the right to talk about politics like every regular person does. Regardless of their status and wealth, they should not be forced to keep quiet because they’re not obliged by their followers to stay out of politics. However, as a person with influence, they do have a responsibility to share informed choices on what has led them to their political belief. Otherwise, they could be influencing their fanbase with baseless choices.