Is there any artist in pop music harder to pin down politically than Taylor Swift? In a world where Lady Gaga stumps for gay marriage and Jay-Z parties with the President, Swift maintains a prim inoffensiveness, always careful to stay within the bounds of acceptability for both the country fans at Wal-Mart and the latte-sippers in Starbucks. Swift’s caginess about her political leanings is at least partially a savvy business decision—her ability to appeal to any segment of the political spectrum is a large part of what’s made her so incredibly successful—but it also seems to include a level of self-reflection. As Swift told NPR, “I don’t have enough wisdom about myself as a person yet to go out there and say…’Vote for this person.’”
In that same NPR interview, Swift revealed that she is definitely voting in this election, and that she has no plans to reveal whether she’s leaning left or right. That doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate, though. Looking at demographics, philanthropy and the messages in her lyrics, it’s time to figure out once and for all who Taylor Swift is voting for.
If, as they say, demography is destiny, then it should be fairly easy to get a handle on who Taylor Swift supports: Just look at the preferences of people similar to her. Many polls have been publishing demographic breakdowns of the presidential candidates’ support in different demographic splits, so we’ve got a wide range of data for some of the broader categories.
Looking at the election by race, an ABC-Washington Post poll found that whites like Swift are supporting Romney over Obama by 60 percent to 37 percent. Switching the lens to gender moves things in Obama’s favor—according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Swift’s fellow ladies prefer the president by an eight-point margin, and unmarried women like Swift are even more supportive—but if you look at both factors together, white women are still more likely to go for for Romney: The same ABC-WaPo poll had the former Massachusetts governor up among them 53 to 44.
Considering voters who like Swift have only finished high school, the tide turns even further in Mitt Romney’s favor. According to a recent study from GQR on the eve of the election, Obama trails Romney among non-college-educated white voters by an astounding 32-60 margin.
One other bright spot for Obama, though, is Swift’s age. Young voters made up a huge part of the president’s 2008 coalition, and most polls have him winning them again by a large margin (though the gap is not as large as it was four years ago). The GQR study, for instance, showed the president nearly doubling Romney’s support among 18-to-29-year-olds. If you’re feeling 22, you’re probably feeling Obama.
Edge goes to: Obama, because of his popularity among young, umarried women.
What’s the political landscape like in the places Swift was born and raised? Pennsylvania’s Berks County, where Swift spent much of her early life, is a region of conservative exurbs on the outskirts of the Philadelphia metro area. Obama in 2008 was the first Democrat since LBJ to win the county, but Swift’s home town of Wyomissing is still less inclined to go over to the Dems full-time: Both of its Republican congressmen won handily in the 2010 midterms.
Nashville, where Swift moved as a teenager, is nearly the exact opposite—a solid blue stronghold in a bleeding red state. Despite country music’s conservative reputation, the industry’s home base has gone Democratic for decades, a holdover from the days of Reconstruction: In the last three elections, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama all received at least 55% of the vote in Music City. The Nashville suburbs, though, are as GOP-friendly as the rest of the state.
Edge goes to: Too close to call. There are just too many conflicting factors here.
If you want to see what someone believes, just look where they put their money. Swift is no less generous than the average celebrity, and her numerous philanthropic donations offer a glimpse at the issues she believes are truly important.
Many of Swift’s causes are the sort of apolitical efforts everyone can get behind—disaster relief, charities for children with cancer, youth service, anti-child predator initiatives—but a few speak to a mind that’s engaging with the political debates of the day. Music education has long been an apolitical issue , but with education budgets being slashed in recent years, does Swift’s longstanding support for the arts make her skeptical of the austerity crowd? (Of course, if Swift were a Republican, she might say that private-sector support like her own should take the place of public arts education.) And while Swift has not come out in support of gay marriage, she has still been active in the fight against homophobic discrimination and bullying, recording a PSA for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and including a gay character in her music video for “Mean.”
Edge goes to: Toss-up. These efforts as a whole are a little too middle-of-the-road to give us any real insight into who Swift’s voting for.
Humans are tribal animals—we generally made our social groups with people who have similar views. Looking at the political makeup of the people Swifts hangs out with, then, may help give us a sense of her own opinions.
Most people receive the first lessons in their political education from their parents, particularly if they, like Swift, have a close relationship with them. What do Swifts’ parents believe? We don’t know for sure, but we do know from last year’s New Yorker story that her father is a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch and her mother also worked in finance. The financial-services industry has turned fiercely against Obama in recent years; we wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. and Mrs. Swift pulled the lever for Mitt Romney, and influenced their daughter to do the same.
But Taylor wouldn’t be the first child to rebel against her parents’ political views, especially if all her friends were on the same side. Who does Swift’s girl gang support? Of the four besties shouted out in the liner notes to “22,” Ashley Greene is Evangelical but apolitical, Dianna Agron is a huge Obama supporter, Selena Gomez has a promise ring but cares a lot about global warming, and backup dancer Claire Calloway has offered no indication of any political leanings. Taylor’s other BFF Emma Stone also hasn’t revealed who she’s voting for, but judging from her recent remarks on sexism in the media, we’ve got a feeling she’s a liberal.
Taylor’s boyfriends, too, seem to be clustered on the left side of the political spectrum. Besides Joe Jonas, who is a hardcore Evangelical, Taylor seems to prefer to date Hollywood liberals. Jake Gyllenhaal campaigned for John Kerry eight years ago and has worked alongside the ACLU, while John Mayer has taken a slightly lazier approach to politics, endorsing Barack Obama on the Huffington Post in 2008.
Which brings us to Conor Kennedy, and the rest of his family. Yes, plenty of conservatives had had romantic liaisons with the Kennedy clan—the former Republican governor of California even married into it—but we have a hard time believing anyone could be as obsessed with the Kennedys as Taylor is and still be a Republican. You can’t idolize Robert Kennedy’s widow and then vote for Mitt Romney, you just can’t!
Edge goes to: Obama. Yes, being in show business will give you a lot of liberal friends, but the Kennedy connection seals it for us.
Now we’re getting into the soothsaying. Swift has been writing songs ever since she was a teenager, almost all of them from at least slightly autobiographical. It’s not too much of a leap, then, to think that the political messages of her songs would reflect the opinion of their author.
Swift’s early records, while never explicitly political, were steeped with the values system of the Evangelical heartland. For the no-good boyfriend in “Picture to Burn,” the perfect revenge is telling everyone in school he’s gay. (Swift changed the lyric in later versions of the song.) In “Fifteen,” Taylor fetishizes virginity in a way that brings to brings to mind those bizarre father-daughter purity balls: The worst thing that could happen to a girl is to “give everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.” Still, though, there was room for openness; Swift’s first hit name-checked Tim McGraw, a self-confessed “Blue Dog Democrat.”
Swift’s later work has softened this message without exactly repudiating it. The Manichean rhetoric of her first two albums—angelic virgins, dirty cheaters, nasty sluts—was complicated by an influx of empathy in her songwriting. In “Speak Now,” Taylor even cast herself as the homewrecker. By Red she was hinting ever-so-obliquely at rough sex and one-night stands, though that’s hardly evidence she’d gone leftist. (Plenty of Republicans enjoy premarital sex.) But look at the chorus of album’s title track again, in the context of electoral maps:
Losing him was blue like I never knew
… But loving him was red
It’s a stretch, yes, but maybe these nods have been there all along—we just need to squint to see them.
Edge goes to: Romney. Until she explicitly endorses a Obama position, Swift’s lyrics are always going to be inherently conservative.
So, after examining all the evidence, who do we think Taylor supporting? By a margin of 2-1, we’re going to go with Obama. The reasons for Taylor to be supporting the Prez—she’s a young, single woman in show business who speaks out for gay rights and loves the Kennedys—simply seem stronger than all the circumstantial reasons she would vote for Mitt Romney.
Who do you think Taylor’s voting for? Feel free to tell us in the comments!