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Harvard Study says Watching 4th of July Celebrations Makes People Vote Republican
A recent Harvard study concluded that kids who attend 4th of July celebrations grow up to vote Republican. My husband alerted me to this study when he read about it in an L.A.Times article. I thought it was a joke. It isn't. In fact, the data is pretty impressive and more conclusive than the researchers, Andreas Madestam and David Yanagizawa-Drott predicted. Apparently waving flags, hearing speeches, eating barbecue, and watching fireworks really does make people think differently about what it means to be an American.
Read the Study Yourself!
Do Other National Celebrations Have the Same Effect?
America is not the only country to have patriotic celebrations. The Chinese celebrate May 1 and the beginning of communism, the French have Bastille Day on July 14, and Mexico has Cinco de Mayo. However, do these sorts of celebrations really make a difference?
Do the hearts and minds of people really become stirred with nationalism and patriotism when they see their flag and march in parades? That was the question these researchers wanted to answer.
Do 4th of July Celebrations Affect Voting?
Researchers Madestam and Yanagizawa-Drott decided to see if they could determine whether the 4th of July celebrations in the United States had an impact on voting records. What these researchers did is clever. They decided that the only way to conclude whether participation in 4th of July events by children had an effect on their adult political participation was to find a way to determine how many of these events children attended.
Study Uses Bad Weather Days for Calculations
Because attendance would be difficult to calculate, they looked at weather records to determine which years 4th of July events had to be canceled because of rain. Looking at an impressive array of data for people born from 1920 to 1990, they checked to see how many possible 4th of July celebrations these people could have attended from ages 3 to 18. Next, the researchers compared possible attendance at 4th of July events to voting records of adults.
Can Rain Affect Party Choice?
Astoundingly, they found that just one 4th of July without rain makes a person 2% more likely to identify as a Republican, 4% more likely to vote Republican, 3% more likely to make campaign contributions, and almost 1% more likely to vote.
How About Parent's Party Choices?
As a researcher myself, I wondered if the study fully takes into account the fact that parent attitudes are probably the most influential factor in influencing the political attitudes of children. In fact, the researchers do point out that more Republicans than Democrats attend 4th of July celebrations and that Republicans view the holiday as more important than Democrats.
Actually, the interpretations of the data do take this parental bias into account. They suggest that in Republican counties, the 4th of July celebrations tend to be more political. Interestingly, they also suggest that people with children are more inclined to attend 4th of July celebrations, perhaps because of an innate sense of their parental responsibility in making their children into good citizens. In his article on July 3 for the L.A. Times, Andrew Malcolm suggests that parents would perhaps be shocked to know they are also indoctrinating their children into a particular political party paradigm.
Are Republicans more Patriotic?
Neither the original study nor Malcom's article attacks the elephant in the room, "Why would patriotism be more Republican than Democrat?" I grew up in a "blue" state with one parent who voted Republican and another who voted Democrat. Electric cars, nuclear energy and saving the forests are issues dear to my heart. So is helping the poor in America and abroad. I've adopted two children from China and seen first hand the problems of overpopulation, but I also want to stop abortions in this country and open people up to the possibility of adoption. I'm liberal economically but conservative socially.
What Does it Mean to be a Good American?
I usually vote Republican, but I think Barack Obama is a good man who really wanted to do the right thing. I liked President Bush because he did not take himself too seriously and I think he also wanted to do the right thing. However, I'm not sure either of them has made good decisions on the economy, the wars, or our national deficit. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? That is another can of worms altogether.
I had to think back. Did I attend 4th of July celebrations as a kid? Mostly, I didn't. We did have fireworks, but because of the fire hazard in the California county where I grew up, we spent most of the celebration wondering how many fire trucks would be required to put out the fires.
4th of July Parade is Real Americana
When I was 17, my family was vacationing in Deer Isle Maine on the 4th of July. We were delighted to watch a "real" 4th of July parade there, complete with an antique fire truck, decorated bikes and babies with flags. It seemed a magical moment with a kind of simple national pride I didn't remember experiencing when I grew up. My family talked about that fifteen-minute parade for years afterwards as one of the highlights of that vacation.
Celebrating 4th of July with Russians and Palestinians
When I got married, we moved to Florida and celebrated our first 4th of July with people in my husband's lab, most of whom were scientists from other countries. It was July 4, 1994, so it wasn't too long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The Russian scientist and his family that came to our 4th of July were some of the first Russians I had ever met. Because we'd never had the opportunity to have sparklers in California, we went out and some, which seemed like wonderful forbidden fun. Our favorite moment from that holiday was watching the children of our Russian and Palestinian friends wave sparklers around saying, "I love America!"
Knowing the long journey that their parents had made to bring their families to this country and the gratefulness they had for the opportunity to live and study in this "land of the free," we knew that while they didn't say it, the parents felt exactly the same way. Now I can't celebrate 4th of July without remembering the feeling of that moment, when I was grateful to grow up in a country other people just dreamed of having the chance to visit.
Everything is Bigger in Texas
A year later, we moved to Texas, which has offered a whole new experience in patriotism. Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the 4th of July. In fact, the first year we were here, we attended the church of a neighbor on the 4th and were shocked by the music minister wearing a flag shirt and leading the congregation in a number of patriotic tunes. No one in any California church we'd attended had ever sung "The Star Spangled Banner" in church! We concluded this Texas church wasn't a very God-centered That is, until the next patriotic holiday, when we experienced the honoring of veterans and singing of even more patriotic songs at another church.
We finally realized that everyone in Texas takes "God and Country" seriously, and literally. They pray, "God bless America" and mean it. They want God to bless America and not just with material prosperity. They want God to bless America and its leaders with the wisdom we need to do right in the world, especially when doing right is hard to figure out.
Embracing Symbols of Patriotism
After a while of living in Texas, we'd accepted the patriotism but not really embraced it. Then, on 9/11, we did. We bought a flag, we took our kids to our local bicycle 4th of July parade. We bought fireworks and went to barbecues. When I see the streets lined with flags on the 4th of July and flag day (which I didn't even know existed before I moved to Texas), I sometimes find myself tearing up. Because people have died so that I can live a good life, an easy life, a life that makes me want to give freedom to others too. America is a special place and we can't be complacent about the freedom we enjoy.
Should We Ban 4th of July Parades?
The authors of the study point out that John Adams specifically encouraged patriotic celebrations so that the thirteen very independent colonies would come together into one United States. Was he wrong? Do displays of patriotism stir up antagonism instead?
Honestly, I don't know what to think about this study which links celebrating a holiday and patriotic displays with politics. Will someone try to use this data to ban 4th of July parades? Or will Republicans use this information to bash Democrats for being non-patriotic? Can my kid's school still have a patriotic sing-along? Will we ban "The Star Spangled Banner" at baseball games? I guess I better fly my flag while I still can.