Here’s some grand news for the Grand Old Party: Research shows that people who are exposed to the American flag even once are more inclined to adopt Republican political beliefs and vote Republican, too.
|Dr. Laura Schlessinger: The flag "brings us back to the basic traditional values of America." (AP Photo)
Noted talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger describes the discovery as “fascinating,” although she said it makes sense. “It’s about roots and tradition, motherhood, apple pie, and spirituality, all of which are Republican cornerstones.”
The study — conducted by Travis Carter of the University of Chicago, Melissa Ferguson of Cornell University, and Ran Hassin of Hebrew University — found that, despite participants’ “overwhelming beliefs” heading into the experiment, those “who received a single exposure to an American flag exhibited a significant increase in Republican voting intentions, voting behavior, political beliefs, and implicit and explicit attitudes, with some effects lasting 8 months after the initial priming episode.”
The results were based on research conducted on about 200 volunteers starting in 2008. Participants were asked to state their political views and later split into groups and queried on whether they would vote for Barack Obama or John McCain. The online questionnaires they were given were identical — except for the fact that one group saw a small American flag in the corner.
Those who saw the flag were more likely to vote for McCain than Obama, compared with the original assessment of their political views. Some of the effects lasted eight months after exposure.
“Although the American flag is assumed to represent the entire country, the present findings suggest that the psychological processes put in motion by flag priming yield increased support for the beliefs of a particular segment of the populace,” the researchers found. “Subtle exposure to the American flag significantly shifted both Democratic and Republican participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior toward Republicanism.”
The findings also counter study participants’ belief “that the American flag would not influence their political behavior or attitudes.”
“This mistaken belief is in line with the standard claim in psychology and political science that important political behavior results from careful and rational deliberation,” the study concludes. “Thus, the current work challenges both laypeople’s assumptions as well as the standard claim in the literature, and joins recent findings showing that subtle cues in the environment can significantly influence how people vote, from polling locations, to facial characteristics of political candidates, to national flags.”
Flag study apparently is something of a growth industry in academia — and the findings are not all good. The flag study noted that a previous study found that a “brief exposure to the American flag increased aggressive thought and behavior, especially among those who followed political news.”
Regardless, the connection between the flag and the GOP tracks with another recent study that found attending one Fourth of July celebration before age 18 increased the chances of being a Republican by at least 2 percent and voting Republican by 4 percent. The Fourth of July study was entitled “Shaping the Nation: Estimating the Impact of Fourth of July Using a Natural Experiment.”
Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor David Yanagizawa-Drott said he and co-author Andreas Madestam of Milan’s Bocconi University did the Independence Day study to investigate whether “important social and civic events during childhood could form the beliefs, values, and political views you hold later in life.”
“We thought that Fourth of July fulfills an important role in society,” he said. “By remembering how the nation’s civil liberties and political freedoms were won, such as the right to vote, children may come to appreciate them and, in turn, lead them to exercise these rights as adults. That is, it could increase turnout and political participation more broadly.
“Finally, we thought there might be a partisan dimension to it. So, it could affect what political beliefs you hold and whom you vote for.”
Yanagizawa-Drott acknowledges surprise at some of the findings.
“Our main hypothesis was that Fourth of July could boost political participation, as we thought that the celebrations could fulfill an important role in society,” he said. “The results on political preferences and the remarkable persistence of childhood experience were more of a surprise to us. As for the result on political preferences, we did not have a strong prior as to whether Independence Day celebrations would shift preferences towards the Republican or the Democratic Party. Our results indicate that childhood experience of Fourth of July shift preferences to the right.”
Although researchers believe further study is warranted, especially to determine why such symbols and events shift people toward GOP values, Schlessinger has her own theory.
The “liberal Democratic Party is associated with undermining traditional values,” she said. The “flag brings us back to the basic traditional values of America . . . The symbolism for the Democratic Party is [an] angry fist and rhetoric.”
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