Was There a Taylor Swift Bump in the Midterm Elections? Vote.org Says Yes

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Taylor Swift performs at The Gabba on Nov. 6, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia.

Now that the dust has settled from Tuesday's contentious midterm elections, a question remains: What about that Swift Bump?

After Taylor Swift surprised fans and pundits last month by throwing her endorsement behind former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen for Senate and incumbent U.S. House member Rep. Jim Cooper in two closely watched races in her home state, poll watchers wondered whether the pop star -- who has not typically waded into politics -- could move the democratic needle.

The impact, at first, seemed, pretty significant, with Vote.org reporting a huge spike of 65,000 newly registered voters in the first 24 hours after Taylor's Oct. 7 post. Alas, Bredesen lost his race to Republican Marsha Blackburn by a nearly 11-point margin, while Cooper kept his seat after beating Republican Jody Ball by more than 35 points.

"It's hard to comment on Tennessee in particular, because there is so much to unpack, but it's clear the youth vote was critical in a year when the youth turnout was the highest it's been since the voting age was dropped to 18 [in 1971]," Debra Cleaver, CEO of Vote.org, tells Billboard. "In fact, it was record-shattering turnout for a midterm and while you can't attribute all of that to Taylor anymore than you can attribute it to any other celebrity, she was definitely emblematic of this new engagement among youth. Especially in a deeply conservative, relatively small state like Tennessee."

Cleaver says it's clear from the data collected by her nonpartisan site -- which uses technology to increase voter turnout by offering voter registration and absentee voter tools -- that tapping into Swift's 112 million followers had an outsized effect in the state with a population of 6.7 million, which puts it 17th on the list of most populous states. "Generally voter registrations mirror a state's population, and we were wondering why Tennessee was even in the top 10 for a week because population-wise there's no way to account for that," says Cleaver of the seemingly instant Swift Effect tabulated by the site, which helped 3.3 million people get out to vote this year (representing just over 1 percent of the U.S. population).

Some of the data Cleaver shared from Vote.org's tabulations appear to bear that out:

-- In the five-day period following Swift's first Instagram post (Oct. 7-12), which drove her followers to Vote.org, the site saw more than 434,000 new registrations, with 281,261 coming from people under 30 (about 65%). 14,000+ of those were from Tennessee. 

-- As of Oct. 12, the 2018 voter registration totals in Tennessee rose from 341 in January to 1,405 in July and 14,017 in October.

-- Cleaver says that Swift's post "almost entirely inverted the registration numbers from Oct. 2016," which were 405,149 (87,876 for voters 18-24) in the presidential election year -- which typically draws more voters -- spiking to 497,582 midway through October of this year (with 192,596 in the 18-24 demo).

-- 65 percent of new registrants logged by Vote.org were under 30.

-- According to CIRCLE, youth turnout jumped from 21 percent in 2014 to 31 percent in 2018.

While Cleaver says celebrity endorsements "without a doubt" increase turnout -- or at least elevate the profile of the election, even if their candidate doesn't win -- statements by such high-profile A-listers as Swift especially helped get out the vote in the midterms, which generally see 40 percent or less turnout than presidential years. According to CBS News, an estimated 113 million people voted on Tuesday, marking the first time in U.S. history that more than 100 million people came out for midterms, leading to a 49 percent participation rate; by contrast only 36.4 percent of eligible voters came out for the 2014 midterms, one of the lowest totals in American history.

"Most people don't realize how important the midterms are and there's no way [Swift] didn't have an impact," says Cleaver. "Celebrities have huge followings and among a lot of groups that are traditionally underrepresented, having someone like Oprah or Beyoncé come out in support of candidates is a major boost for groups that partisan organizations typically ignore. Plus, to have someone endorse a governor in the midterm year? That is so in the weeds!"

Vote.org hasn't heard from Swift directly so far, but Cleaver says they sent her a hat to show how much they appreciate her shout-out. More importantly, they sent her good vibes because just by 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," she may have created a whole new Swiftie Wave of lifelong voters.

"The single biggest predictor of of how consistently you vote is how young you are when you vote and based on our research a young person who votes in a midterm election is 55 percent more likely to vote in the following presidential election than a young person who doesn't," says Cleaver. "All of these young people who voted on Tuesday are going to vote in 2020, which is such a huge win. Which means they'll be lifetime voters because once you've voted in three elections in a row you're a lifetime voter."


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