The Mere Sight of an American Flag Can Shift Voters Republican

Photo: wellohorld

As if we needed more evidence that people often fail to practice rational, thoughtful analysis in making a decision: a new study by Travis Carter at the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago’s Booth School finds that people who are briefly exposed to the American flag shift toward Republican beliefs.

Abstract below; full version here.

There is scant evidence that incidental cues in the environment significantly alter people’s political judgments and behavior in a durable way. We report that a brief exposure to the American flag led to a shift toward Republican beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior among both Republican and Democratic participants, despite their overwhelming belief that exposure to the flag would not influence their behavior. In Experiment 1, which was conducted online during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, a single exposure to an American flag resulted in a significant increase in participants’ Republican voting intentions, voting behavior, political beliefs, and implicit and explicit attitudes, with some effects lasting 8 months after the exposure to the prime. In Experiment 2, we replicated the findings more than a year into the current Democratic presidential term. These results constitute the first evidence that nonconscious priming effects from exposure to a national flag can bias the citizenry toward one political party and can have considerable durability.

Social scientists have long speculated that national flags exert some unnoticed influence on political behavior, but empirical data has been hard to come by until 2007, when Israeli researchers found that subliminal exposure to a national flag leads voters to support politically moderate views. Carter argues (and seems to prove) that in countries dominated by a two-party system, the national flag instead moves people toward one end of the spectrum rather than to the middle.

Results of both experiments found that a single exposure to a small American flag during deliberation about voting intentions led to “significant and robust changes in participants’ voting intentions, voting behavior, and political attitudes, all in the politically conservative direction.”

Does this mean Obama should take off his flag lapel pin?

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. jblog says:

    Sounds to me like the Democrats have an image problem.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 4
  2. jimmsans says:

    So many easy cheap shots, I am not even gonna bother.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4
  3. Shane says:

    Why should he take off his flag lapel pin? He is clearly right of middle.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 7
  4. AaronS says:

    I’m a Republican, but it bothers me deeply that the Republican party has so co-opted patriotism and religion that “real” Christians are expected to be politically conservative, etc.

    I may not agree with a lot of the Democrats, but most of us can agree that we ALL want what is best for America. The Republicans see that as boosting big business to create jobs; the Democrats see that has making sure that poor have adequate resources, and so on.

    No party should be co-branded on the American Flag. It belongs to all of us. And certainly no party should be the “Party of God.” That’s utter blasphemy…except that millions of sincere believers believe pretty much that, their political views trumping their religious ones.

    As a previous poster pointed out, the Democrats have an image problem. While the Republicans have wrapped themselves in the flag, too many Democrats have found that “distasteful.” They do this for sincere reasons: They understand that America, for all that is good about it, also has some very dark things to account for. The Republicans can somehow rationalize such things away.

    Now that this is know, you can be sure that voting precincts will have people waving the American flag just outside the doors, seeking to gain votes. How sad that we have allowed images that belong to ALL of us to become, by and large, the property of my party.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 54 Thumb down 13
    • Derick says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7
    • rick says:

      You are absolutely right that most people want what they think is right for America. Issues are complex enough that reasonable people can agree to disagree without questioning motives. Few successful negotiations end with everyone getting everything they wanted.
      Of course zero sum situations complicate things especially when changing the tax code or reallocating resources to stay within a budget. There are almost always winners and losers for every decision. Politics in our representative form of government can get nasty and personal but it doesn’t have to be that way if we keep in mind that most everyone is trying to do what they think is right for the nation.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • Hermit_boy says:

      “… but most of us can agree that we ALL want what is best for America.”

      I cringe when I hear people make that statement. Do you mean that we should judge people on their intentions and not on their results?

      The KKK wants what they think is best for America. Does that mean that what really IS best for America? What about the Communist party in America. I assure you they want what is best for America, in their opinion, but should we become a communist country?

      I will not disagree with you that what the vast majority of Americans want is what is best for America. But is that all we look at, is their intentions? We need to instead look at their results.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
      • JBP says:

        Hermit boy,

        I appreciate your approach, but I don’t think Aaron was advocating how we should judge policies or parties. He was asking us to act civilized towards people we don’t agree with. This starts by understanding that the vast majority of people do want what is best, but have very different ideas about such things.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • JBP says:

      Here! Here! Well said!

      I think the problem is that some leftists behave in such an anti-American fashion that they inadvertently end up making the entire democratic party look bad by way of comparison. It doesn’t help that the president has often associated with such people. I know he has to deal with the political reality of his base, so I am not judging merely pointing out.

      I really wish we could stop the culture wars and start a decent conversation between the two sides. Who knows what we could accomplish. Instead, too many people on both sides like to score cheap points.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  5. Enter your name says:

    I realized the other day that the polling place closest to me, serving ~5,000 residents, happens to have five US flags within direct line of sight. It’s a cluster of government buildings, each owned by a different agency (post office, city building, etc). I wonder if that precinct skews slightly Republican. Since one of the flags was just added (new building), it might be possible to see whether the increased number of flags makes a difference.

    Also: If you wanted to promote Republican interests, then it seems like a “get out the vote” effort involving flags and signs saying “Polling station that way” would be deemed as facially neutral as helium balloons and signs saying “Polling station that way”. I wonder whether anyone will decide to line the path to the polling station with little flags next election.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  6. robyn ann goldstein says:

    Not `always.’ sometimes `somewhat.’ If I were a registered republican, I would vote for Obama. Now that is funny. Perhaps that is why they are so opposed to his’ idea. sounds too much like them. In effect, a vote for Obama is a real vote Republican. Isn’t this the real problem- the upcoming election. They have no one in mind. The trouble is, we need a real two party system (even if the differences are not so great). I mean not all of the democratic programs are in good working order. Take health care! I still do not know what has changed since Obama was elected. So far as I have been concerned- nothing has changed other than that my costs have gone up hugely and going to the doctor has become a meaningless event in which nothing gets done to figure out the cause of this or that. Two weeks since my daughter contracted a sore throad and she still does not know the cause of the problem. The doc sent her home with over the counter cough serrup and she still is sick. I say- that is not medecine, but poor judgment and reckless endangerment of a child’s well being.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Derick says:

    The Democratic party consistently fails at justifying its policies with reference to American principles, so, this is unsurprising.

    The Republican party is split between two philosophies – the secular classical liberalism of the founders and of 20th century intellectuals like Ludwig Von Mises and Ayn Rand, and Christian Fundamentalism.

    The Democrats could connect themselves to patriotism again by promoting Jeffersonian ideas and identifying that the rights-oppressing fundamentalist wing of the GOP contradicts them, but they’ll never do this, because while the Republicans are *split* between Jeffersonianism and Christian Fundamentalism, the Democrats are fully opposed to Jeffersonianism and advocate European collectivism.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  8. cackalacka says:

    This may all well be true, but the only individual I’ve ever known to disrespect the stars and stripes is my neighbor two doors down.

    He’s been flying it upside down for some reason since January, 2009. I’m guessing, given the plethora of Sarah Palin/NRA stickers on his truck, that he is politically dissatisfied, rather than a stranded vessel at sea.

    After talking with a few neighbors, left and right (literally and politically), about his display, I think all of us have disassociated the multi-generational republican effort to co-opt it, and are pretty hurt at this disrespectful teabeggar display.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8
    • BSK says:

      Well, the black socialist Kenyan Muslim marxist stole his country. OF COURSE he’s flying the flag upside down.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2