Although the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry doesn't actually teach anything about political philosophy - or anything non-magic related for that matter - that doesn't mean Harry Potter hasn't had a significant impact on politics. Indeed, according to one university professor, he may have even helped Barack Obama win the 2008 election.
In a new book, titled Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation, University of Vermont political science academic Professor Anthony Gierzynski claims J.K. Rowling's famous literary character could have encouraged millennials to vote for the Democratic Party.
The claim goes that for many millennials - which are broadly defined as anyone born between 1980 and 2000 - the Harry Potter series could have subtly altered their politics to be more akin to the Democratic Party. This, Gierzynski suggests, could have "played a small but not insignificant role" in electing Obama. In an email to The College Fix, Gierzynski explained:
The lessons fans internalized about tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority made the Democratic Party and Barack Obama more appealing to fans of Harry Potter in the current political environment.
One major lesson Gierzynski highlights is that of accepting people (and Elves) of different backgrounds and races as equals. In a chapter titled 'Diversity and Acceptance; Or Don’t Judge People (or Creatures) By Their Appearance or Blood', Gierzynski explains how Harry adopts a tolerant and accepting attitude toward half-muggle/half-wizards, as well as house elves who are routinely treated by others as an inferior underclass. Alternatively, the villains of the book continue to treat mixed-blood wizards and elves with disdain and aggression. The book continues:
Again and again, whether it is ignoring status as a pure-blood to judge individuals on the quality of their character, or simply courtesy toward any person regardless of their appearance or societal position, the tale of the boy wizard teaches it is good to reserve judgment, to be open to those who are different. By contrast, the stories’ antagonists are often quick to make judgments and be quite vocal in their bigotry.
You can check out an example of this below:
Gierzynski suggests that in the post-Bush era, these kind of tolerance-espousing ideals were better represented by the Democratic Party as opposed to the Republicans. A survey, which included over 1,000 Millenial-aged college students at seven US universities, concluded that Harry Potter fans tended to value notions of tolerance, acceptance and equality over non-Harry Potter millenials. The results showed that overall, 60% of the millenials surveyed voted for Obama, while 83 percent stated they viewed the Bush administration negatively. Gierzynski continued:
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.
Author J.K Rowling certainly isn't unknown for getting involved in politics. In 2008 it was revealed she had made a donation of £1 million to the UK's Labour Party, a center-left political party which was born out of trade union and socialist movements. The party, which now forms the main opposition in the UK, can be considered slightly analogous with the Democrats, although in reality even the Democrats are relatively far to the right of Labour. However, with this in mind, it's not bizarre to suggest her Harry Potter books are imbued with a latent sense of political morality. Regarding the donation, she stated:
I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour party than they would under a [David] Cameron-led Conservative party... Gordon Brown [the Labour leader at the time] has consistently prioritised and introduced measures that will save as many children as possible from a life lacking in opportunity or choice.
However, there are some criticisms of this argument. Firstly, as is always the case with media effects research, it's often unclear if people are responding to media, or if the media is responding to people, creating a kind of chicken and egg situation. Furthermore, only millenial college students were surveyed in the study, and this group tends to already be relatively pro-Democrat. Added to this is the fact that the young demographic are often the least likely to actually vote, meaning their impact on the outcome would be less marked.
Another element is that this trend doesn't seem to have played out in other Harry Potter-obsessed nations. For example, in his native United Kingdom, the millenial generation is seen as becoming more conservative and not more liberal. Indeed, in 2010, the Labour Party, which had been in power since 1997, was ousted by the incoming Conservatives - a party seen as the right-wing option.
However, as Gierzynski explains, any Harry Potter effect was likely to be only one of a number of contributing factors - and a small one at that. But perhaps it is also worth pointing out that nowadays there are very few young adult mainstream role models or characters which would practice ignorance or racist tendencies towards others. In this sense, responsibility for creating a more tolerant youth cannot be placed square at Harry's feet.
Well, in the interest of scholarly research, lets conduct our own little survey below.
Which option best describes you?