Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign, hoping to make the most of an appearance by Beyoncé at a recent fundraiser, has twice in the past several days tweeted a photo of the pop diva at the New York event.
The move was met with some eye-rolling, especially at one of the tweets that included the rather corny appeal to potential supporters to “Say you’ll Bey on #TeamHillary2016.” But a nod from the pop superstar could help spur an important group of voters to at least pause to consider her candidacy.
In Clinton’s quest to inherit the collection of voting blocs that helped to elect and reelect President Obama, young female voters will be crucial. Clinton found that out in the 2008 primary, when Obama took a sizable chunk of the female vote – 52 percent to her 43 percent, despite the excitement among some women for her bid to become the first woman president.
Unless a strong challenger steps forward, Clinton will likely dominate the female vote in the Democratic primaries. But for the general election she will need women to enthusiastically support her candidacy and turn out to vote at a rate approximating those of the last two cycles. That will be especially true for women of color, particularly black women, who in 2012 voted at a higher rate than any other group and were an important cushion for Obama, who got only 42 percent of white women's votes.
Some young feminists associate Clinton with an old-school feminism that is white, establishment-based and narrowly focused on “women’s issues.” Younger feminists embrace the concept of intersectionality, which argues that the movement for equality also must take into account how race, class, and sexual orientation affect women’s lives.
“There are a lot of women of color feminists who are looking at Hillary with a side-eye remembering 2008 when she definitely wielded her whiteness as a weapon toward Barack Obama,” said Janet Mock, and MSNBC host and transgender activist.
Going into 2008, Clinton actually led Obama among black women 68 percent to 25 percent, according to a CNN poll. But after Obama’s surprise victory in Iowa, black voters began to believe that he could win the nomination and their allegiance shifted.
During the long, close primary fight, former president Bill Clinton angered some black political activists by seeming to dismiss the seriousness of Obama’s candidacy, while Hillary Clinton appeared to work harder to woo white, blue-collar voters.
Recent polls suggest that most black voters, especially women, have moved on from 2008 and are overwhelming in Clinton's camp.
According to a Washington Post poll in March, women of color and young women were her biggest supporters. In the poll, 64 percent of women ages 18 to 39 rated Clinton favorably, versus 53 percent of women ages 40 to 64 and 38 percent of women over age 65. A Gallup poll also from March showed that Clinton received her highest favorable ratings from nonwhite women: 71 percent.
In that sense, it’s not surprising that Beyoncé would support Clinton, although there has been no announcement of a formal endorsement. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment about what else they plan to do to telegraph Beyoncé’s support beyond last week’s tweets. The photo used in the tweet, from a fundraiser hosted by music mogul L.A. Reid, did not appear to be shot by a professional (indeed, it looked like a cellphone photo snapped by someone on the other side of the room) and Clinton was not shown with the pop star.
Jennifer Lawless, a professor and director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, said that in general celebrity endorsements “don’t change hearts or minds. But they can inject a level of enthusiasm into the campaign that a candidate can leverage.
“Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama comes to mind. People attended the events she headlined for Obama not to see Obama, but to see Oprah. That said, an endorsement from Beyoncé certainly can’t hurt, especially if the Clinton campaign is eager to generate excitement among young women early on in the campaign season.”
Beyoncé, who has embraced the feminist label in a big way, has been closely associated with Obama's presidency. She performed during both of the president's inauguration celebrations. She was one of the first celebrities to sign onto Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, retrofitting one of her hit songs, “Get Me Bodied,” for a video in which she danced with school-aged children. And in 2012, she and her husband, Jay- Z hosted an event that raised $4 million for the president’s reelection campaign.
And she is enormously popular. Her last album became the fastest-selling album on iTunes when she released it in December 2013 with no advance notice and zero promotion. It sold 828,773 copies in three days. Beyoncé and Jay-Z's three-month “On The Run” tour was named by Forbes as one of the most successful in history, despite having fewer tour dates than many of the others on their list. The couple was able to charge a premium for every seat and racked up $5 million per show, a number surpassed only by U2’s “360” tour.
“I think that what Beyoncé’s power will do, as a feminist and as a public feminist and as a very public celebrity feminist, is that she’s going to push a lot of young women, just broadly, to look at Hillary,” said Janet Mock, host of MSNBC.com’s “So Popular” and the network’s reigning Beyoncé expert.
But Clinton, eventually, will need more than just looks from these women. She will need their votes.
“I don’t know if her co-sign is enough because black women are really smart,” said Women, Action, and the Media executive director Jamia Wilson. “We are always going to come with critical questions. I do think that she will start the conversation, and I do hope that her influence extends to the campaign, in terms of her talking about what her fans need.”
Mock concurred. She said Clinton will get black women's votes "if she explicitly states, ‘Yes, I’m all for girl power, and feminism, but this is how it affects black women’s lives, or women of color’s lives, or immigrant women.”
Scott Clement and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.