Just a brief exposure to an image of the American flag shifts voters, even Democrats, to Republican beliefs, attitudes and voting behavior even though most don't believe it will impact their politics, according to a new two-year study just published in the scholarly Psychological Science.
What's more, according to three authors from the University Chicago, Cornell University and Hebrew University, the impact had staying power.
"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," the study found. "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."
Theirs is the first study to look at the political impact on Americans who have seen an American flag, and it seems to back up another recent Harvard University professor's study that found that kids who attended a July 4th parade ended up leaning Republican when they grew up.
It's also sure to prompt GOP presidential candidates to add more U.S. flags at their events and speeches.
For this study, the scholars asked mostly Democratic-leaning voters to join in the survey conducted just before the 2008 election of President Obama over Sen. John McCain. All were given a survey to fill out. Half of those surveys included a small picture of an American flag in the top left corner.
Some 90 percent said that they believed their voting behavior wouldn't be influenced by the presence of a flag.
But after asking how the participants voted, the study concluded:
"In contrast to the beliefs of the participants in the pilot study, the results from the experiments reported here show that exposure to the American flag introduces a bias toward the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. In one experiment, we tested whether subtle exposure to the American flag shifted people's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward the Republican end of the political continuum. We found that a single exposure to a small American flag during deliberation about voting intentions prior to a general election led to significant and robust changes in participants' voting intentions, voting behavior, and political attitudes, all in the politically conservative direction."
And apparently politics didn't have anything to do with how those shown the flag changed their voting.
"It is important to note that political ideology and party affiliation did not moderate these effects. That is, both liberal and conservative participants were influenced by the flag prime, and in the same (conservative) direction," said the study.
Eight months after the election eve survey, the group was then asked about Obama's performance and remarkably those in the group shown the American flag on the initial survey "felt less positively about Obama's job performance."
To prove the shocking results, the scholars in the spring of 2010 conducted another test, this time to see if exposure to an American flag produces a bias toward Republicanism, rather than the party that controls the White House. For this, they showed some pictures of buildings that included a flag, and others photos with the flag digitally erased.
That result: "Subtle exposure to the American flag significantly shifted both Democratic and Republican participants' beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior toward Republicanism."