If you have “high, high hopes” that the 2020 election will give more “power to the people” and support your ability to make a living “working 9 to 5,” you could be an idealist — or just an Iowan who’s attended too many campaign rallies.
As Democratic presidential candidates vying for a chance to unseat President Donald Trump have permeated the state’s arenas, campuses, soapboxes and living rooms, they’ve brought with them an entourage of staff, tour buses, T-shirts and music — often choosing one song to serve as an anthem.
• Hear the songs and take the quiz: Scroll down for a playlist and quiz to match the candidates to their songs
Those songs can be an “effective vehicle to draw attention to a candidate and illustrate a candidate’s platform,” according to University of Northern Iowa Professor Sarina Chen.
That’s why she and UNI graduate student Darrell King decided to conduct local research on which songs from this year’s troupe of Democratic candidates have been the best received.
In a poll last month of 122 undergraduate UNI students, King and Chen asked respondents to pick their favorite from a list of 21 campaign songs and explain why.
The poll identified both the song and the associated candidate, and earning the most votes — with 22 percent — was former Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s selection of “High Hopes,” by Panic! at the Disco, followed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, which earned 18 percent.
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Rounding out the top anthems were Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Power to the People,” by John Lennon, earning 12 percent; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s choice of “9 to 5,” by Dolly Parton, which got 11 percent.
Other campaign songs that garnered less support included former Vice President Joe Biden’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” by Bruce Springsteen; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s “Good as Hell,” by Lizzo; and Sen. Cory Booker’s “Lovely Day,” by Bill Withers.
Students who voted for Buttigieg’s “High Hopes” said they liked it for its motivational message — appealing to his aspirations for the country, as well as those of voters. They also reported the song resonates with young voters. The track has been atop Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs for a total of 52 weeks, although not all back-to-back.
Gabbard’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” anthem should connect with voters of all ages, as it’s a classic, the students said. They also liked it for its optimism and description of the country “as constantly climbing a social and political mountain and conquering obstacles,” according to researchers.
Responding students shared feelings both about the songs and the candidates, allowing King and Chen to draw some conclusions.
“We believe campaign songs not only bolster existing support but also increase the likelihood these students would vote for a candidate,” King told The Gazette.
Chen surmised campaign songs are one way candidates can hammer home messages, noting they “increase the scale and amount of support by drawing voters’ attention to a candidate and their platform.”
Consider Sanders’ rally theme of grassroots campaign work, crediting his success to voter efforts; and Warren’s blending of feminine strength with a working-class mentality.
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“Students said it also shows that Warren is not just a talking head on TV,” according to the researchers. “She works just like the rest of us.”
Candidate use of campaign songs to bolster their messaging and energize their supporters is not a new phenomenon, although King said Barack Obama “really set the stage for the use of music” during his campaign and presidency.
Obama tapped Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed and Delivered,” which King said resonated with African Americans, and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” Obama, in fact, released an entire CD of campaign music called “Yes We Can.”
“It really showcases the shift in the role of campaign songs over time,” King said, noting the strength of song to capture audiences compared with flyers or ads.
“Based on our study, we believe that a candidate’s song choice will play a significant role in the success of the campaign,” King said.
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