Are millennials easily swayed by endorsements?
November 1, 2018
The countdown is on for the midterm elections. With less than a week left until Election Day, everyone who can is coming out of the woodwork to get in just one last opinion, viewpoint or statement before Americans' ballots are cast and it's too late.
In so many ways, this election is a record breaker. Campaign spending is higher than any midterm election in American history. This also is the most diverse group of candidates to ever run, from race to sexual identity to gender. No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself on, there's no denying that for these elections, the stakes are high.
Because of the high stakes, there are a lot of persuasive messages from influential people, companies and publications coming out.
Last week, Patagonia announced an endorsement for two candidates running for the Senate, Democrat Jacky Rosen of Nevada and incumbent Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who also is a Democrat. The company said they were endorsing these candidates because of their stance on public lands, not because they are interested in getting involved in partisan politics. This is the first time in history that Patagonia has made an endorsement for specific candidates, and the company has been around since 1973.
Patagonia isn't the only entity with a large public spotlight that has spoken out as of late. We all remember back at the beginning of October when Taylor Swift posted on Instagram, endorsing Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee. Plus, newspapers across the country have published their midterm endorsements in the last week or so. And, even on a local level, some notables in the community are coming out to say publicly who they plan to vote for.
This is all good and fine, but my question is, when it comes to my age group, are these tactics working? Do endorsements persuade us to vote a certain way or even show up at the polls in the first place?
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The simple answer to this question is that we don't really know. Tracking the effectiveness of an endorsement isn't necessarily easy. We don't know why someone decides to go, or not to go, to the polls. And, assuming they do go to the polls, we don't always know what persuaded them to vote a certain way. Hell, they may not even know what ultimately led them to vote for one candidate over the other.
That's not to say that we don't know that endorsements make an impact. Within 48 hours of Taylor Swift's endorsement, Vote.org had more than 169,000 new people register to vote, an unheard of amount in such a small time period for the organization. All of these people may have not registered on the site because of T-Swift's endorsement; however, more than half of the new registrants were between the ages of 18 to 29, which is the key age group of her fans.
On a scientific level, there aren't a ton of studies specifically about political endorsements and their effect on millennials. However, several studies and surveys have shown that millennials are skeptical when celebrities or other kinds of notable people or companies endorse a product, especially when it doesn't seem authentic. Millennials would much rather hear from friends or "real people" about recommendations on restaurants, shops, gear, etc.
A study published in the Journal of Political Marketing in September said celebrity endorsements do have an effect. Whether that is positive or negative depends on the public's view of that celebrity. If the public views the celebrity in a negative way, or they are generally unfamiliar with who the celebrity is, that can lead to a negative effect, according to the study. However, this particular research didn't look at age groups.
As the study points out, the effectiveness of an endorsement often depends on the messenger. For me personally, I can be swayed slightly by an endorsement if I respect the person who is doing the endorsing, but mostly my mind is made up long before endorsements for an election are even circulating. However, I'm a young person who is intensely interested in politics, which is not always the most common occurrence. I can see how people who totally prefer unplugging from politics would find an endorsement from a company or celebrity convincing.
But at the end of the day, with or without highly publicized endorsements, getting out to vote is what's important. It's our civic duty and it's due time we all exercise it.
Barbara Platts will not say who she is voting for, but she will be voting. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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