The Density and Power of National Flags
52 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2023
Date Written: January 24, 2023
National flags are modernity’s premier symbol of statehood, universally flown by sovereign and would-be sovereign entities alike. For decades, scholars have speculated that that viewing flags can cue patriotic attachment and that the large-scale display of national flags is associated with other forms of state power. This article challenges both these assumptions. Using a pre-registered survey experiment in China and the USA, I evaluate the (non) impact of seeing flags on respondents’ political attitudes. Using a dataset of 47 million photos geotagged around the world, I then examine the larger implications of this micro-foundational result. Once again, a null result suggests that – contrary to expectations – flag density is unrelated to other measures of state capacity. Official symbolic power, though important, appears orthogonal to state coercive or financial resources.
Keywords: flags, symbolic politics, China, USA, political persuasion
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