“TAYLOR SWIFT FAILS TO ELECT DEMOCRAT,” blares a Drudge Report headline, voicing one common reaction to Marsha Blackburn’s win for Tennessee’s Senate seat over Phil Bredesen, whom Swift endorsed. Another viral—if gross—line, tweeted by The Federalist’s Sean Davis: “Taylor Swift’s streak of terrible choices in men continues.”
There it is, the tangible evidence of the risks that come for celebrities speaking out on politics. Swift famously kept quiet about who she supported in the 2016 election, and one plausible reason would be that she wanted to avoid the sorts of jeers she’s receiving today. But when she broke her partisan silence a month ago with a call on Instagram to elect Democrats in Tennessee, she did so knowing that neutrality had its drawbacks too: The left had been blasting her as out of touch and cynical for staying mum on issues of huge consequence.
Often the power of celebrities in politics gets over- or understated. Those who say that stars might as well shut up and smile ignore findings such as that of researchers who calculated that Oprah, by endorsing Barack Obama, might have earned him a million votes in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. Other research has shown that some star activists end up energizing voters on the side they’re opposed to. In every case, insisting that an entertainer failed or succeeded in getting someone elected is silly. No outcome has a single cause, and if there was any celeb who measurably swung races this time, it was Donald Trump.