When traditionally successful men like Kelce support liberal causes and candidates, they help to provide a “permission structure” for young men to vote for Democrats, including Joe Biden.
The right is worried about Taylor Swift—and they are right to be. Her influence on millions of young women is legendary, and the way she chooses to wield this influence could make a difference in a close presidential election this November, not to mention electoral battles in years to come.
The right is so worried that numerous conspiracy theories about Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce as a pro-Biden agenda have circulated on talk radios, Fox News, and all over social media. The most prominent of these theories alleges collusion between the “deep state” and the NFL that will culminate in Swift’s endorsement of the incumbent president at the Super Bowl.
But there’s another reason MAGA should fear Swift’s cultural power in this volatile political moment—one that has attracted very little attention amidst the almost non-stop media coverage of the musical sensation and pop icon. It has to do with Kelce, and the impact he could possibly have on young men.
Much of the political media’s coverage of the fairytale romance between the pop star and the football hero has focused, understandably, on Swift’s potential impact on the young women’s vote. It has been widely reported that the number of 18-year-olds who registered to vote on Voter Registration Day in 2023 doubled from the previous year, after Swift posted a link to vote.org on her Instagram story.
Swift decided to go public with her political affinities in 2018 during a campaign for the U.S. Senate in her home state of Tennessee. During this campaign, she endorsed the Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen, who ultimately lost to the to Marsha Blackburn, the sitting Republican senator. Swift is also a vocal supporter of women’s and LGBTQ rights, as well as racial justice.
Swift is the “biggest and most influential endorsement target” this campaign season, according to The New York Times. “She endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 … and fund-raising appeals from [her] could be worth millions of dollars for Mr. Biden.”
But what should we make of Kelce’s potential effect on the political identity and choices of young men? Could it be that Kelce himself is one of the reasons why the right has been driven to adopting outlandish theories about Swift-Kelce?
Kelce has not talked publicly about his candidate preferences or party affiliation, but evidence suggests that he leans left.
- In the largely conservative world of NFL football, in 2017, he was one of the first white players to take a knee during the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter.
- He has drawn scorn from conservative cultural warriors for doing an ad for Bud Light and drinking it publicly, especially in the aftermath of right-wing boycotts against the brand due to its collaboration with transgender TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney.
- Anti-vaxxers have derided him for appearing in a COIVID-19 vaccine ad for Pfizer.
- He’s also shown a willingness to satirize the absurdity of some aspects of traditional masculinity, such as when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2023 and acted in a skit called “Straight Male Friend.”
It is worth noting that Kelce is an all-time great football player and future Hall of Famer. These elite credentials shield him from the stereotypical criticisms often levied by the right, suggesting that men who endorse liberal or progressive causes are weak, “anti-male,” or merely engaging in virtue signaling.
The significance of all this lies in the fact that gender plays a pivotal role in contemporary American politics. The gender gap in presidential voting has been a major electoral factor for decades. Women are much more likely to vote for Democrats; men for Republicans. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed the gap to be widening. Women now support Biden over Trump 58-36 percent, while men support Trump 53-42 percent. Most political commentary about this gap focuses on the women’s vote—assuming that men, especially white men, are somehow predestined to support right-wing candidates.
Not surprisingly, much gender-focused political organizing by Democrats prioritizes securing the women’s vote. This is understandable, but it might also be self-defeating. As Rachel Kleinfeld argued in a recent essay, “People who care about democracy could read the numbers (about the GOP advantage among male voters) and conclude that they should simply double down on getting women to vote. But giving up on half of one’s country is not good civics—nor is it smart electoral math.”
The GOP’s electoral strategy has long been to gain overwhelming majorities among white male voters, and more recently, to increase vote counts among men of color. And they’ve been enormously successful at doing so: In the 2020 election Trump beat Biden among high school-educated white men by an astounding 70-28 percent, and among college-educated white men 51-48 percent.
The cultural politics on the right that contributes to this strategy is not just about race—it is about masculinity. Media personalities in the conservative info-tainment complex routinely mock liberal, progressive and Democratic men as weak and insufficiently masculine. The idea is to stigmatize them so that insecure white guys won’t want to identify with them, regardless of how they feel about policy positions.
On the issues, men are often not as conservative as their voting patterns might suggest. A 2023 survey called The State of American Men, by the Washington, D.C.-based organization Equimundo, found that nearly two-thirds of men aged 18-45 thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But men’s more conservative voting behavior is arguably more about identity than it is about policy.
Travis Kelce, especially if he votes Democratic, profoundly disrupts the right-wing appeal to (white) male identity. In fact, when traditionally successful men like Kelce support liberal and progressive causes and candidates—especially when they do so openly and unapologetically—they help to provide a “permission structure” for young men to vote for Democrats, including Joe Biden. This could be a nightmare scenario for MAGA well beyond November.
Kleinfeld concurs. “The problem is not that men are natural crusaders for authoritarian populists,” she said. “In fact, U.S. men are much more likely to be politically apathetic, and most young men are better characterized as confused and drifting. The problem is that anti-democratic and violent forces are trying to weaponize that aimlessness. Politics is coming into most men’s lives subtly. They look for belonging, purpose, and advice, and find a mix of grifters, political hacks, and violent extremists who lead them down an ugly road. And few people are fighting back.”
Giving up on half of one’s country is not good civics—nor is it smart electoral math.Rachel Kleinfeld
One need not subscribe to every aspect of political analysis outlined above to see that, as a couple, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce have greater social significance than most celebrity couples. Among other things, Kelce’s chill attitude and seeming nonchalance about his relationship with the hyper-successful and much wealthier Taylor Swift sends a message to men that strong men are not threatened by strong, liberal feminist women. They even respect and cherish them!
In recent days, many people have expressed a certain degree of burnout with all the media coverage of the Swift-Kelce subplot in the lead-up to Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest cultural event of the year. But in their own way, they are doing something useful and socially responsible.
Under the glare of the biggest spotlight imaginable, Swift and Kelce are making the statement that narrow straightjackets of personal or political identity do not serve anyone in today’s infinitely diverse and complex society of the 21st century.
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