Amid the build up to the US mid-term elections, global megastar Taylor Swift released a political statement via Instagram to her 112 million followers. Swift has previously been known for avoiding any conversation regarding her political views, saying that she has been ‘reluctant to publically voice her opinions’.
Swift stated that she intended to vote for Tennessee’s Democrat candidates, and condemned the voting record of Republican candidate, Marsha Blackburn. wift concluded by urging her fans to ‘educate’ themselves on their state candidates and register to vote.
Since her post the number of those registering to vote has skyrocketed, with statistics from vote.org showing that 65,000 registered in the 24-hour period after Swift’s social media statement. Tennessee, Swift’s state of registration, saw a particularly great increase in those registered to vote.
Celebrities may ‘not be well informed’ themselves, so their influence may be damaging.
Swift is not the first celebrity to venture into the political scene. Beyoncé and Jay Z publically backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US elections, and even performed at a rally with an attendance of 10,000, which was designed to encourage American citizens to use their vote. Public figures such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry also vocalised their political stance during the 2016 election.
The US is not the only country whose political system receives celebrity attention. Many high profile celebrities in the UK voiced their political opinions before the 2016 EU referendum, with David Beckham and JK Rowling publicly voicing their intention to vote to remain.
It appears that celebrities are increasingly shaping the political landscape, a phenomenon that has both beneficial and dangerous implications. Swift’s actions have sparked online debate, even prompting The New York Times to pose the question as to whether or not celebrities should weigh in on politics, inviting readers to comment their personal opinions on this matter. It became evident that many find the fact that celebrities have a degree of political influence to be problematic.
One contributor stated that they ‘strongly believe celebrities should stay out of politics’ as ‘citizens should be able to form their own opinion’. Another pointed out that ‘the weight celebrity opinion carries is massive’ and suggested that because of this it’s best for famous figures to ‘stay out of it and let the public decide for themselves’.
It is undeniable that celebrities have a large platform, and their ability to influence their audience may be dangerous if it prevents people from forming their own opinions based on their own country’s current situation. One user also pointed out that the celebrity may ‘not be well informed’ themselves, so their influence may be damaging.
Celebrities such as Swift also have a fan base which consists of many young people, who may be more susceptible to influence as they are likely to have a greater degree of engagement with celebrity social media platforms. There is a potential danger as it could prevent young people from properly educating themselves and deciding who to vote for.
However many were in favour of celebrities voicing their political opinions. A contributor to The New York Time’s debate surrounding the issue stated that ‘when celebrities use their platforms to speak out about politics, it opens up a dialogue on the issue and brings attention to it’.
What has been highlighted here is that celebrity involvement in politics perhaps makes the political scene more accessible to the public. This could be beneficial in that it may encourage more to engage with politics and to vote, thus allowing more to exercise their own voice. The rise in those registered to vote after Swift’s statement is an illustration of these positive effects.
Free speech is a key aspect of democratic society
Another user involved in the debate said that celebrities deserve ‘freedom to voice their opinions’, as free speech is a key aspect of democratic society. Another even went further and stated that ‘celebrities should be encouraged to voice their opinions’, as it is their right to.
The debate as to whether or not celebrities should be involved in politics has clearly divided opinions. Personally I believe that, providing it is done in a responsible fashion, celebrity involvement in politics should be a positive example of freedom of speech.
Many members of the public are very detached from their country’s political scene, so when celebrities use their large platform to encourage people to vote they encourage citizens to exercise their democratic power.
I am more wary of celebrities using their platforms to voice their personal beliefs instead of just highlighting the importance of voting, however we all have the right of free speech and celebrities should be no exception.
Yet if a celebrity does wish to make a political statement they should do so in a responsible way by educating themselves properly beforehand.
They should also be aware that they do have the power to influence, and so they should voice their opinions in a mature and civilised way, perhaps with evidence to support their statement.
It is also important to bear in mind that the celebrity’s audiences are not passive and will not always be influenced just from reading someone else’s statement.
In fact, studies undertaken in the US show that around 60% of citizens feel that celebrities did not influence their personal political views at all, and furthermore only 9% said they are strongly influenced by entertainer’s opinions.
So whilst celebrity involvement in the political landscape is a debated topic, particularly after Taylor Swift’s recent statement, famous figures voicing their opinions may be beneficial in helping create a democratic society.
Whether or not you agree with celebrities getting involved in politics, Swift did make a point of high significance. Educating yourself about the current political situation as well as registering to vote are perhaps some of the most important actions we can take as citizens to ensure our democratic system works as effectively as possible.