Here’s a pressing question for our democracy in the age of the celebrity president: How much sway does Taylor Swift hold over the electorate? Can she, with a single Instagram post, really inspire thousands of first-time voters to do their civic duty? Is a Taylor Swift endorsement going to become the deciding factor in Tennessee’s midterm congressional race? Will future politicians battle for Swift’s endorsement like gladiators before a benevolent empress?
The numbers say: maybe.
Swift has long refused to discuss politics in public on the grounds that she has a big platform and she doesn’t want to use it to sway anyone’s vote. But this weekend, she broke her silence with an Instagram post that urged her followers to register to vote — and that endorsed two Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee.
Shortly thereafter, the voting advocacy site Vote.org experienced what it described as a “massive spike” of voters registering nationwide.
“Thank God for Taylor Swift,” communications director Kamari Guthrie told BuzzFeed News. She cited a surge of 65,000 registrations in the 24 hours after Swift’s Instagram post, compared to 190,178 new voters registering in the entirety of the month of September, and just 56,669 in August.
Here’s the thing: We can’t definitively link those numbers to the Swift effect. Voter registration always spikes in October, as Vote.org acknowledges, because it’s the last month before the national election. The surge Guthrie is describing doesn’t necessarily say anything about Swift’s political influence.
But when we take a closer look at the numbers provided by Vote.org in a press release, things get a little more interesting — especially when we break the new registrations down by age.
Here’s Vote.org’s data on October 2016’s new voter registrations, broken down by age.
You can see that people between 30 and 39 are registering to vote in the highest numbers (112,000), and that people in their late teens and 20s are lingering behind them.
Now let’s look at the data for voter registration this October, as of 3:30 pm Eastern on October 9, again broken down by age. The overall numbers here are all smaller than the numbers in the 2016 example because we only have data for nine days of October 2018, as opposed to the whole month of October 2016, but we can still see a definite pattern emerging.
Here, you can see that the 18-to-24-year-old and the 25-to-29-year-old crowds are registering in the largest groups — far outstripping the 30-year-olds — and that the numbers gradually go down as the ages go up. (The under-18 crowd is the exception here, but it’s also the smallest group in the general population.) In fact, more people between 18 and 24 have already registered to vote by October 9 this year (99,000) than did in the entire month of October in 2016 (87,000). And people in their teens and 20s also happen to fit neatly into the demographic of Taylor Swift’s fan base.
None of this means that we can definitively tie any spike in voter registration to Swift’s Instagram post. Correlation is not causation. But we are seeing an uncharacteristic increase in voter registration from a group that’s overrepresented in Swift’s demo just after Swift’s announcement — and if Swift bears any responsibility for that spike, well, maybe this is proof that we still can have nice things.