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Hollywood: A Political Fountain of Youth

via The Times of London

Historically, Donald Trump’s social media persona and grand political rallies have equipped him with a relatively young public appearance. His attempt to portray himself as vibrant and witty by channeling his inner celebrity is no doubt a page taken from former President Ronald Reagan’s playbook. Famous for his comedic one-liners, Reagan utilized televised appearances and his old Hollywood charm to make the voting public fall in love with his personality. Although age became a key issue in his 1984 reelection bid, he was able to fight off such doubts with iconic humorous retorts that are well-known even today. Mirroring Reagan, Donald Trump has likewise used his filmed debates as an opportunity to make amusing attacks on his opponents and demonstrate his mental sharpness.

In a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, however, a majority of Americans found the ages of both President Joe Biden and Trump to be of concern in the upcoming election. Exemplified by a recent SNL skit poking fun at Trump’s mental fitness, it seems that the former president’s old tactics of downplaying his 77-year-old age have lost their potency. Thus, both presidential candidates will have to convince the American public to forget about their age in their battle to return to the Oval Office. One weapon in their political arsenal might prove particularly useful: celebrity endorsements.

Both Trump and Biden’s elderly statuses compromise their ability to attract a critical voting group: young people. Compared to the 76 percent voter participation rate of 65- to 74-year-olds in the 2020 presidential election, millions more Gen Z voters stayed home––just above half of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 made it to the polls. As the 2024 election ramps up, each candidate will compete to tap into this historically disengaged voting bloc. Yet neither candidate is an optimal representative of youth and vigor, as they would both be in their eighties during their second term. 

To project youth, Trump and Biden must do more than make Reagan-esque comebacks; they’ll have to turn to endorsements. Traditional endorsements will not cut it, though, and both nominees have recognized as much. With former opponents Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy now among his proudest endorsers, the country watches as Trump aims for a new target to add to his repertoire of supporters. One might have assumed he would appeal to other GOP leaders. Rather, in his recent tirade on Truth Social, Trump has made a plea to music icon Taylor Swift to join the ranks of MAGA endorsers. Hinting at a political tug-o-war over Swift’s influence, it seems Biden too is making a play for her support. Harnessing the support of celebrities will be a necessary part of their campaign strategies: In doing so, Trump and Biden will not only acquire “youth by proxy,” making them more marketable to the public, but they will also be able to better reach this important voting demographic. 

Aside from her astounding 14 Grammy wins, Swift wields a powerful tool that both Biden and Trump desperately need: sizeable influence over young adults. After Swift encouraged her millions of Instagram followers to register to vote, the website she promoted reported over 35,000 new registrations, a dramatic jump from their previous numbers. Swift, known to weigh in on politics only periodically, remains coveted by both candidates for her ability to command her audience’s political participation. Looking at the political efforts of other young celebrities, it seems she is not alone in wielding this power. Singers Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, and Harry Styles also helped register tens of thousands of voters ahead of the 2020 election, an overwhelming majority of whom ended up participating in the general election. As demonstrated in the 2000 presidential race, which came down to just a few hundred votes, getting people to the polls has become increasingly important. With Swift or one of her pop star compatriots among their ranks, both presidential candidates could greatly boost their youth voter turnout and thus their chances of being elected.

Hollywood’s ability to influence voter registration at this magnitude is astonishing, not to mention confirmed by numerous studies. A 2008 study examined the direct effects of celebrity support on the race for the White House. The results showed that celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of then-Senator Obama had statistically significant effects on his success against Clinton in the primary. The authors estimate that her support for Obama resulted in an increase of millions of votes for his campaign, especially from the show’s target demographics. A study from Columbia revealed the same. If either Biden or Trump were to garner the support of celebrities with large youth followings, precedent demonstrates that such endorsement would yield significant results. 

As Biden and Trump prepare for the home stretch of the election season, there is no doubt they will bring a big name or two out onto the campaign stage during rallies. If they are smart, both candidates will tailor these spectacles to the young demographic that they have waning influence over. Although it is going to be hard to get voters to look past a presidential candidate’s observed mental decline, using the sparkly image of celebrity supporters can make voters feel more persuaded to ignore a candidate’s flaws. Securing these celebrity endorsements could allow both Biden and Trump to hoodwink voters with some good old Hollywood glamor.