October 11, 2018

Swift Voting

If you believe that the power of a celebrity influencer is overstated, the case of the Taylor Swift’s Instagram voter registration post should put any skepticism to rest. This past Sunday, Swift posted a plea to her 112 million Instagram followers to go to the website Vote.Org and register to vote. She also endorsed two underdog candidates in her home state of Tennessee. The results were astounding.

Vote.org, the non-partisan website dedicated to increase political engagement, announced that 169,000 people registered to vote within a 48-hour period after Swift’s Instagram Post. To give some perspective, just under 200,000 individuals registered to vote during the entire month of September. In the State of Tennessee, where Swift made her political endorsements, 41% of all voter registrations during the month of October came within a 36-hour period of her Instagram post.

Skeptics would say that a spike in voter registration is normal as the deadline to register approaches. However, it is statistically unlikely that this massive spike in traffic can be attributed to the calendar alone. For one, the spike was so massive that the October 8th registration was the second highest of the entire year. As well, over 50% of the registrants fall neatly into Taylor Swift fan base of 18-29s with the 18-24 age segment almost doubling overnight.

From a marketing perspective, the Taylor Swift post is an excellent case to validate the power of influencer marketing on Millennials. Unlike traditional marketing, influencer marketing focuses on a persuasive individual rather than an entire target audience and is particularly effective in social media campaigns. Put another way, the target is an audience of one—one with significant reach into professional and personal networks.

Influencer campaigns are less expensive to develop because the brand seeks to target only a few select individuals. Many times, the influencer will not be paid for their endorsement but instead receive a free product to expose to their audience. In terms of effectiveness, an influencer’s standing in their social community is based on integrity, so endorsements must be credible or their individual brand will fail.

When done properly, social media influencer campaigns will have an immediate and measurable impact on behavior. In Taylor Swift’s case, the spike in voter registrations was real, measurable, and its impact was felt all the way up to the White House where our media savvy President had to comment about it in a way that was somewhat innocuous.

The Real Test
Statistics show that Millennials have far less impact in midterm elections than their parents and grandparents. According to NonProfitVote.org, in 2014, only 26% of eligible voters under 40 voted in the midterm elections compared with 55% of those over 50 years of age. Looking at voters under 30, a mere 21% voted in the midterms. It is these under-30 voters that heard the call from Taylor Swift and registered to vote. Now we are less than one month away from learning if this group will take the next step and actually vote.

Presidential election years see the greatest turnout amongst the younger population. In 2000, 41% of voters under 30 turned out to vote, whereas in 2008 when President Obama won his first term, 52% of under 30 voters cast a ballot. With the balance of Presidential power up for grabs, even a small percentage of increase in the under 30 voter turnout can materially change the political direction of this country for years to come.

According to Pew Research, 59% of Millennials identify as 59% Democratic, 32% as Republican. Conversely, the Silent Generation (voters over 70) skew 52% Republican to 43% Democratic. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are roughly even in terms of party affiliation. Should younger voters heed the call and vote in a higher percentage than usual, it could shift the balance of power in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate towards the Democrats.

In less than a month, the final scene will be cast. In the meantime, rest assured we will be subjected to a variety of short-term disturbance, some will be artificial (Trump labelling Dems as ‘evil’), some more full bodied (leaks from the Mueller campaign regarding the Trump administration).

Helping our Democracy
If democracy is understood as ‘one person one vote,’ nothing would be healthier for America than higher levels of voter turnout—period. When Richard Nixon was President, he used the term “silent majority” to define the roughly 80% of moderate Americans who held their opinions to themselves but were the swing voters that determined elections. The silent majority forced both political parties to work together for the betterment of society.

Nowadays, there is no silent majority, only because so many people don’t vote. The winners of elections are now determined by base voter turnout. Compromise is now considered a sign of weakness leading to the fractured society that we see today. Should Taylor Swift and others like her have the power to encourage turnout, America will win.

If I had a dime for every politician that would run their political campaigns based on the premise that the youth vote would show up to vote in greater numbers, and then were soundly defeated, I would be a wealthy man. While Taylor Swift did get people to register to vote in remarkable numbers, I do not believe that her fans will take the extra step and materially increase youth voter turnout during the 2018 midterm elections. I hope to be proven wrong.

For those of you who have not registered, or would like to find out about your voting status, click HERE.

A 20-year veteran media executive, Rob Silvershein’s success in today’s competitive media environment is a direct result of his unique experiences spanning traditional, emerging, and startup media platforms. He is an accomplished strategist and spends most of his time advising media companies on how to structure themselves for long term success. He currently lives in Manhattan Beach, CA.

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