In an epic Twitter feud earlier this week, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren criticized rapper Cardi B in response to an Instagram video that Cardi posted in which she sharply criticized President Donald Trump and his management of the current government shutdown. In response to the video, Lahren tweeted: “Looks like @iamcardib is the latest genius political mind to endorse the Democrats. HA! Keep it up, guys! #MAGA2020.” As someone who is not afraid to speak her mind, Cardi clapped back at Lahren by tweeting, “Leave me alone I will dog walk you.” The feud went on with Lahren calling Cardi B’s political talk “moronic.” However, Cardi got the last word, tweeting that Lahren is “blinded by racism.” The feud has since gone viral, calling attention to the evident, yet puzzling, intersection between celebrities and politics.
Celebrities have two things that politicians crave: money and platforms. Not only do politicians realize the importance of celebrity endorsements and support, but celebrities themselves are well aware of the great impact they can have on the success of a politician or political party. The 2016 election saw celebrity endorsements on both sides, with A-listers like Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears, LeBron James, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé endorsing Hillary Clinton. President Donald Trump was endorsed by celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson, Sarah Palin, Hulk Hogan, and Kirstie Alley. Those are just ten of the many celebrities who publicly threw their support behind each candidate. However, the number of celebrities endorsing democratic candidates heavily outweighs the number endorsing republican candidates. In fact, news website The Conversation added up the number of Twitter followers among those five Republican-endorsing celebrities as well as the number among the five Democrat-endorsing celebrities. When compared, the totals showed an astronomical difference in combined Twitter followers between the two sides. The Trump-supporting celebrities collectively had 21 million Twitter followers, while the Clinton-supporting celebrities had an astronomical collective total of 195.6 million Twitter followers.
Twitter and other social media platforms are frequently used by celebrities to publicize their political views. This allows them to appeal to their younger audience, motivating them to go out and vote or sometimes endorsing a specific candidate or party. The Conversation also reported that “those who are less politically savvy or poorly informed are also more likely to vote for a political party endorsed by a celebrity.” According to ABC News, voters ages 18-29 only made up 13% of the 2018 midterm voting population, demonstrating how celebrities can make a significant impact in choosing to share their political views and endorsements with their followers. It is not as common to see a celebrity speaking at a candidate’s political rally as it is to see one throwing their support behind a candidate or urging people to get out and vote in an Instagram post, bringing to mind the recently outspoken and influential artist Taylor Swift.
Swift had always been one to remain mum about political views and values, that is, until the 2018 midterm elections where she finally broke out of her political shell. In an October Instagram post, Swift shared a lengthy caption detailing her political beliefs and endorsing Tennessee House of Representative candidate Jim Cooper and United States Senate candidate Phil Bredesen. While Cooper was elected and Bredesen was not, the greatest impact of Swift’s post came in voter registration numbers from her home state of Tennessee. In the Instagram post, she dedicated her last point to voter registration, saying, “So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do.” Within three days following Swift’s Instagram post, more than 166,000 people across the country had registered to vote on Vote.org, and forty two percent of those people were ages 18-24, further clarifying just how much political influence celebrities can have on younger voters through social media.
Other celebrities with big names and far-reaching platforms followed suit. On election day, Beyoncé took to Instagram to endorse Beto O’Rourke for Senate in her home state of Texas. Travis Scott and Lin-Manuel Miranda also threw their support behind Beto. Even in times far from election day, liberal celebrities continue to be vocal about their disapproval of the Trump administration. For instance, Scarlett Johansson, Laverne Cox, Olivia Munn, and Olivia Wilde recently voiced their opinions at the Los Angeles Women’s March last weekend.
It is true that most celebrities have the money to affect political campaigns significantly, but they hold more power in their platforms. Many celebrities who do choose to speak out are well aware of the political power they have. It is not the kind of political power that can pass laws or vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Instead, celebrities possess the kind of political power that can sway numerous people to follow their lead in support of particular candidates, parties, or values, thus shaping the American political sphere.