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.
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?