Priming America: Experimental Tests of Flag Imagery Effects in Presidential Elections
41 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
The American flag is a powerful national symbol that political campaigns routinely seek to harness for electoral gain. However, for some candidates with some voters, the flag’s benefits may be more elusive than they appear. In this paper, we provide experimental tests of the effects involving flag imagery associated with two candidates, in the context of the 2012 U.S. presidential election. We begin by presenting a content analysis of flag imagery in the 2012 presidential campaign by both campaigns and their Super-PAC surrogates, revealing patterns of use by practitioners. Then in two experiments set amidst the campaign, we find that, regardless of the source, any flag exposure favors Romney and Republicans, particularly among subjects high in prejudice and symbolic patriotism. Finally, in a third study focusing on prospective 2016 presidential candidates, we find similar effects, for prejudice but not symbolic patriotism. Beyond practical implications for political campaigns, these studies emphasize the critical role of audience traits in moderating the effects of campaign messaging.
Keywords: flag imagery, vote choice, priming, patriotism, prejudice
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