Harry Potter May Have Had an Unexpected Impact on American Politics


The news: The Harry Potter books may not have been about politics or the real world, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have had a profound effect on real world politics.

According to University of Vermont political science professor Anthony Gierzynski, the Harry Potter audience was swayed towards the Democratic Party right at the perfect time to help Barack Obama win the 2008 presidential election.

Here's the idea: In his new book, Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation, Gierzynski argues that the J.K. Rowling's depiction of equality, tolerance and societal acceptance (of half-muggle/half-wizards and elves, for example) is more in tune with the Democratic party than the GOP.

Since this reading/voting block came of age during the 2008 election, Gierzynski argues that reading the books possibly "played a small but not insignificant role" in Obama's victory.

Gierzynski interviewed 1,000 millennials at seven U.S. colleges and investigated the intersection of books, movies and fanaticism with their influence on young people. He found that 60% of those surveyed who read Harry Potter books voted for Obama, and 83% of them felt poorly about the Bush administration, mainly on a few keys issues:

"Attitudes in opposition to the use of violence, torture and deadly force came to be associated with the Democrats at the end of the Bush years, mainly in opposition to Bush administration policies and failures in these areas. The opposition to equal marital rights for same-sex couples and immigration reform by the Republicans put those who support political tolerance … and those who are more accepting of diversity on the side of the Democrats."

Image Credit: AP

Some skepticism: Despite Gierzynski's mounting evidence for his theory, an aspect to consider is that there was no causal effect of the books, meaning that Obama may have gotten elected with or without the Harry Potter books. It's difficult to determine if media responds to culture or if culture responds to media.

Additionally, Movie Pilot's Mark Newton points out that college students have a tendency to be generally pro-Democrat and are the least likely age-group to get out and vote, which also makes Gierzynski's theory tenuous.

Another issue is that there's a lack of similar patterns in other countries with Harry Potter fans. In the U.K. where there are many fans of the series, young people are becoming more conservative and less liberal.

The takeaway: In a case of interesting timing, Gierzynski is publishing his theory shortly after recent findings published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology which found that reading the series significantly improved young peoples' perception of stigmatized groups like immigrants, homosexuals or refugees.

If the Harry Potter books made millennial voters more tolerant, then Gierzynski's logic regarding Obama's election as the first-ever African American in the White House seems logical, but it's not without detractions. Nevertheless, president Obama, you should thank J.K. Rowling the next time you're giving a speech – you may not have won without her.