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Jay R.

Westreich

17 May 2017

President Obama and The American Flag

This paper attempts to find if there is a relationship between feelings towards Obama and

emotion exhibited when seeing the American flag by testing if, in a comparison of individuals,

those giving Obama a higher rating on a feeling thermometer will be less likely to have emotion

when seeing an American flag fly than will those giving Obama a lower rating on a feeling

thermometer. It will do so by explaining why this research is significant and examining relevant

literature. Then, it will use correlation, bivariate regression, and control variables to test if they

hypothesis is true, and look closely at the type of relationship. This paper finds that while people

who give Obama a higher rating on the feeling thermometer do exhibit less emotion when seeing

the American flag than those who give Obama a lower rating on the feeling thermometer, and that

this relationship is different between blacks and non-blacks, the relationship is spurious and mostly

likely linked to Party ID.


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Analyzing the relationship between Obama and the American flag is important because it

will show how the symbol of the American flag affects individuals politically. If it is likely that

people who have a poor attitude towards Obama exhibit the most emotion when seeing the

American flag, then politicians who oppose Obamas policies may want to use American flag

imagery in their campaigns to gain support. If they were to use American flag imagery, there

supporters would exhibit more emotion and make them more likely to vote in that election. This

analysis may also reveal what the American flag has come to symbolize today. If the American

flag is meant to celebrate patriotism, then the American flag should also be associated with the

leaders of this country, including and especially the president. However, if emotion when seeing

the American flag decreases for people who like Obama less, then the symbol of the American

flag may have come to mean something apart from patriotism.

The first theme found in previous research on this topic deals with interaction between the

American flag and partisanship. Much of the research has found that there is an association

between the American flag and the Republican party, as well as the Republican party embracing

the American flag more than the Democrats. For example, seeing a flag can change someones

political beliefs. In one experiment, participants in the flag-prime condition...showed

significantly more positivity toward the Republican Party and candidates than did participants in

the control condition and while participants in the control condition generally tended to vote for

Obama (83.5% for Obama, 16.5% for McCain), this tendency was significantly reduced in the

flag-prime condition (Carter) This priming even has a long-lasting effect, as participants in the

flag-prime condition felt less positively about Obamas job performance at the 8-month follow-

up...than did participants in the control condition (Carter). This evidence shows that people who

see the American flag can have their opinions changed in the direction of the Republican party.
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Perhaps the two major political parties have already caught onto how voters feel about the

American flag. In the 2012 presidential election, the two candidates took different strategies when

using the American flag. For example, the Romney campaign used flag imagery more often in

television advertisements43% versus 34% for Obamaand flags were three times more likely

to appear in the same image as the sponsoring candidate in those ads (Kalmoe). When people see

the American flag with a Republican candidate, nearly all flag coefficients are positive indicating

greater Republican support (Kalmoe). However, flags appearing with the Democratic

candidateObama or Bidendo not benefit these Democrats...[A]ppearing with the flag does not

appear to help the Democratic candidate among the most patriotic voters. In fact, just the opposite

(Kalmoe). It is clear that Obama and Romney had to use the flag in different ways in order to get

more votes. Romney needed to use the flag as much as possible, as the American flag would benefit

him. Obama did not need to use the flag as much, because there would either be no effect or a

negative one.

It is also important to look at what demographics of people choose to display the American

flag. Research has shown that African Americans were less likely to display the flag...and less

likely to display the flag in as many places...than were other ethnic groups (i.e., non-Hispanic

Whites, Hispanic, or other) and people who displayed the American flag were somewhat older

and less educated, had higher incomes, and were more threatened by the terrorist attacks than were

people who did not display the flag (Skitka). Additionally, the effect of the U.S. flag to be

particularly strong among native-born Americans (compared to immigrants), non-Hispanics,

independents, and Republicans over Democrats, and self-proclaimed conservatives (Wright).

This data shows that people with different backgrounds already have preconceived ideas about the

American flag. The average old, uneducated, rich person is more likely to have a positive view of
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the American flag than an African-American. It is possible there are many other demographics

that have different views of the American flag as well. This relates to my hypothesis because it

could help guide what demographics I use as control variables in this paper.

What are peoples preconceived ideas about the American flag? Some would think

patriotism because it is our national symbol. Others would think nationalism, because it is only a

symbol towards America. One researcher found that recent empirical work has demonstrated an

array of unconscious effects of exposure to national symbols...including increased implicit national

identification, an automatic orientation toward group unity, and the automatic activation of

concepts associated with ones nation (Butz). People also have a direct relationship between the

American flag and the ideals of patriotism and nationalism. To show, [w]hen participants were

in the presence of the flag, patriotism was not significantly enhanced...[and while] nationalism was

significantly increased in the presence of the flag...the flag did not reliably enhance love and

concern for ones country, but heightened participants desire for the United States to dominate

other nations (Kemmelmeier). Seeing the flag also changes peoples views about these ideals. For

example, [w]hen the flag was prominently displayed on their questionnaire, patriotism was

slightly enhanced...but without reaching statistical significance...[and] in the presence of the flag

our American participants were very much inclined to agree with the idea that the United States is

the best country in the world (Kemmelmeier). This evidence shows that people associate the

American flag with both patriotism and nationalism. However, the association with nationalism is

stronger than the association with patriotism. This is an important point for this paper because it

could help explain why any relationship between feelings towards Obama and emotion when

seeing the American flag exists. It could also uncover how people percieve the American flag and

how they percieve Obama.


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While there has been extensive research on peoples feelings towards the American flag, it

is not complete. There are still many opinions that could affect peoples view of the American flag

that have not been tested. Perhaps these relationships exist only in people with certain attributes,

and not for the entire population. These attributes could be demographical, such as age, race,

income, or education level. Even further, they could be peoples opinion on issues, such as how

much of threat they perceive terrorists or the federal government to be, how authoritarian they are,

or their political ideology. This is where my findings will fill in the missing pieces of research on

feelings towards the American flag.

The hypothesis being tested in this paper is, in a comparison of individuals, those giving

Obama a higher rating on a feeling thermometer will be less likely to have emotion when seeing

an American flag fly than will those giving Obama a lower rating on a feeling thermometer. These

themes relate to my hypothesis because I am also looking to see how much emotion people exhibit

when seeing the American flag. The independent variable of feelings towards Obama is important

because I will be able to see how feelings towards Obama effects feelings towards the American

flag. The previous research on this topic will help me analyze my results by helping me pick which

variables to control for and which demographics took take a closer look at. The research may also

possibly help me discover the reasons behind any significant relationships that I find between

feelings towards about and feelings towards the American flag.

As people have a warmer feeling toward Obama, do they have less emotion when seeing

the American flag fly? This paper will try to show that in a comparison of individuals, those giving

Obama a higher rating on a feeling thermometer will be less likely to have emotion when seeing

an American flag fly than will those giving Obama a lower rating on a feeling thermometer.
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The variables I will be using come from the nes2012 dataset. To measure feelings towards

Obama, I will be using the variable Obama_therm. Respondents were asked to express their

attitudes towards Obama using a feeling thermometer which went from 0 to 100. 0 would mean

the respondent had the poorest attitude towards Obama, while a score of 100 would mean the

respondent had the highest attitude towards Obama. The average is 60.74. The mode is 100. The

median is 70. It is negatively skewed. To measure emotion when seeing the American flag fly, I

will be using the variable patriot_flag. During the survey, respondents were asked When you see

the American flag flying does it make you feel. The options presented were Extremely good

Very good Moderately good Slightly good, and Not good at all. The mode is Extremely

good. The median is Very good. It is positively skewed.

As feeling about Obama increases on the thermometer, emotion when seeing the American

flag fly decreases. A positive relationship between my variables would be as feelings towards

Obama increases, emotion when seeing the American flag fly decreases. A negative relationship

would be as feelings towards Obama increases, emotion when seeing the American flag fly

increases. If the hypothesis is correct, then there will be a positive relationship between these two

variables.

To test this relationship further, I will run correlations and regressions. Correlation will

show me how much of the change in emotion when seeing the American flag fly can be explained

by feelings towards Obama. Regression will show me how much of an decrease can be expected

in emotion when seeing the American flag fly as feelings towards Obama increases by 1 on the

thermometer, as well as the expected amount of emotion when seeing the flag fly when the feeling

thermometer has a score of 0. Also, the regression will return a p-value, which will show how

likely it would be for my results to have occurred at random.


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I will also compare the results between blacks and non-blacks. Because Obama was the

first black president, blacks and non-blacks may have different feelings about him. Additionally,

both groups may have different feelings about what the American flag represents. For example,

blacks may have a more negative view of the American flag because they are more aware of

Americas historical and institutional racism. It is possible that any significant relationship found

will only be for one of these groups, or that a relationship exists in both groups but in the opposite

direction of each other. This will help determine if the relationship I find is spurious, additive, or

interactive.

To continue making sure that any relationship I find is not spurious, I will also run

regressions with control variables. Party ID may affect my dependent variable of emotion when

seeing the American flag fly. Many Democrats approve of Obama and many Republicans do not.

It may be that Democrats have less emotion when seeing the American flag fly than Republicans,

regardless of their opinion of Obama. Education may affect my dependent variable. Obama is more

liked among people with more education. People with less education may blindly have more

emotion when seeing the flag fly. People with more education, regardless of their opinion of

Obama, would have less emotion when seeing the American flag fly. Believing the federal

government is a threat may affect my dependent variable. People who believe the federal

government is a threat may see Obama as a symbol of the federal government, while seeing the

American flag as a symbol of freedom against the federal government. If the regressions with these

variables as controls still yield a significant relationship, then the relationship between the

independent and dependent variable are not spurious.

After running a correlation, it was discovered that the correlation coefficient is .1221. This

means that only 12.21% of the change observed in emotion when seeing the American flag fly can
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be explained by feelings about Obama. Based on these results, my hypothesis was incorrect. If

such a large portion of the change observed in the dependent variable, 87.79%, can be explained

from something other than my independent variable, then the relationship I proposed in my

hypothesis is not very strong.

The p-value of the relationship between feelings about Obama and emotion when seeing

the American flag fly is 0.000. This means that the probability that these results would have

occurred randomly is 0%. The 95% confidence interval is .0029-.0045. We can further conclude

that these results would not have happened randomly because the confidence interval does not

contain 0.

The constant is 1.729 and the coefficient for the Obama feeling thermometer is .0037. This

means that for every increase of 1 on the feeling thermometer, the value of the variable on emotion

when seeing the American flag fly increases by .0037. The American flag variable is coded so that

a lowest value has the greatest emotion and the highest value has the least emotion. Therefore, as

feeling about Obama increases by 1 on the thermometer, emotion when seeing the American flag

fly decreases by a value of .0037. If a person gives Obama a zero on the feeling thermometer, we

would expect them to have a value of 1.729 on the American flag variable (somewhere between

Extremely good and Very good, but closer to Very good). These results are more promising for

the hypothesis. The p-value and confidence interval show that there is some relationship between

the two variables that could not have happened by chance. The constant and coefficient show that

the direction of the relationship in my hypothesis was correct.

I then created a margins plot that showed the expected level of emotion when seeing the

American flag for each rating on the Obama thermometer for both blacks and non-blacks (see

Appendix). Blacks had a larger confidence interval because there were fewer blacks in the survey
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than non-blacks. However, the graph showed that blacks who gave Obama a 0 on the feeling

thermometer found the flag moderately good, while non-blacks found the flag very good. For

blacks, emotion when seeing the American flag went up steadily as feelings about Obama went

up. On the other hand, emotion toward the flag went slightly down as Obama feelings increased

for non-blacks. The confidence intervals did not overlap until the feeling thermometer was at 88.

When both groups gave Obama a 100 on the feeling thermometer, both flag scores were close to

each other, between moderately good and very good, but much closer to very good.

When running a regression of these two variables with control variables, however, things

quickly changed. The first control variable was party ID, (pid_x), which said that each respondent

was either a Democrat, Independent, or Republican, and that Democrats and Republicans were

Strong, Weak, or Independent. When controlling with this variable, all statistical significance goes

away, as the p-value become .767. The next control variable was education (dem_educ3), which

said that each respondent had either completed high schools or less, some college, or more than

college. When controlling for this variable, very little changed. The p-value remained at 0.000 and

the 95% confidence interval still did not include 0. The last control variable was believing how

much of a threat the federal government was (dhs_threat_x). Respondents were classified as saying

None (lowest), a number between 1 and 3 (1 being the lowest except for None), or Extreme

(highest). Controlling for this variable also did not take away significance from the relationship

between the independent and dependent variables. Again, the p-value remained at 0.000 and the

95% confidence interval still did not include 0. Finally, when controlling for all three of these

variables at once, the original relationship was no longer significant. The p-value became .218,

which means there was a 21.8% chance that the results from all 5 of these variables, would have

occurred at random.
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As an individual gives Obama a higher rating on a feeling thermometer, are they less likely

to exhibit emotion when seeing the American flag? The most honest and accurate answer is not

really. The correlation coefficient of .1221 was not a good sign for this relationship. Only 12.21%

of the change observed in emotion when seeing the American flag can be explained by feeling

about Obama. This indicated that other variables would likely be at play, or in other words, that

the relationship was spurious. However, I still had to find what control variable was driving the

association.

The bivariate regression told the next piece of the story. It showed that the relationship

between the two variables was positive. This was a good sign for my hypothesis, as my hypothesis

called for a positive relationship. Because the American flag variable was coded so that a lower

value meant more emotion, a positive relationship meant that as feeling about Obama went up,

feeling about the flag went down. The bivariate regression also showed that the relationship was

significant because the p-value was below .05. In fact, it was 0.000, which meant it was very

unlikely that the results from these two variables would have occurred randomly.

The margins plot illustrated the type of relationship between these two variables, and why

it appeared to be positive at first. Blacks had less emotion when seeing the flag than non-blacks,

yet blacks emotion to the flag increased as Obama feelings went up, while emotion to the flag

went down for non-blacks. This shows there is an interactive relationship between these two

variables. This type of relationship most likely results from blacks who do not approve of America

as much as non-blacks. However, many blacks see Obama as a sign that America can make racial

progress. Therefore, blacks who have a very high feeling toward Obama would also exhibit more

emotion when seeing the flag fly because they see it as a patriotic symbol. Non-blacks who do not

like Obama may have the most emotion when seeing the flag fly because that group would include
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older, white Americans who identify very strongly with the flag. They may see it as a symbol of

nationalism.

However, control variables showed that the relationship I had found was not very

significant. While controlling for education and believing the federal government is a threat did

not affect the significance of the relationship, controlling for party ID did. With a p-value of .767

when party ID was the control variable, it showed that this was really the variable that was driving

the relationship. The original relationship I had found was merely spurious. If party ID drives this

relationship, then really it is people who identify as Democrats who are less likely to exhibit

emotion when seeing the American flag than Republicans. The relationship only seemed

significant at first because most Democrats gave Obama a higher rating on the feeling thermometer

than most Republicans. If there were a Democrat who did not like Obama, they would most likely

not exhibit much emotion when seeing the American flag, whereas if there were a Republican who

did like Obama, they would most likely exhibit a lot of emotion when seeing the American flag.

This analysis has shown that Democrats exhibit less emotion when seeing the American flag than

Republicans. While this discovery furthers the research on the political psychology behind the

American flag, my hypothesis was disproven in the process.


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Works Cited

Butz, David A. "National Symbols as Agents of Psychological and Social Change." Political

Psychology 30, no. 5 (October 2009): 779-804. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost

(accessed March 29, 2017).

Carter, Travis J., Melissa J. Ferguson, and Ran R. Hassin. 2011. "A Single Exposure to the

American Flag Shifts Support Toward Republicanism up to 8 Months Later."

Psychological Science (0956-7976) 22, no. 8: 1011-1018. SPORTDiscus with Full Text,

EBSCOhost (accessed March 29, 2017).

Kalmoe, Nathan P., and Kimberly Gross. "Cueing Patriotism, Prejudice, and Partisanship in the

Age of Obama: Experimental Tests of U.S. Flag Imagery Effects in Presidential

Elections." Political Psychology 37, no. 6 (December 2016): 883-899. Business Source

Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 29, 2017).

Kemmelmeier, Markus, and David G. Winter. "Sowing Patriotism, But Reaping Nationalism?

Consequences of Exposure to the American Flag." Political Psychology 29, no. 6

(December 2008): 859-879. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost

(accessed March 29, 2017).

Skitka, Linda J. "Patriotism or Nationalism? Understanding PostSeptember 11, 2001,

FlagDisplay Behavior." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 35, no. 10 (2005): 1995-

2011.

Wright, Matthew, and Jack Citrin. "Saved by the Stars and Stripes? Images of Protest, Salience

of Threat, and Immigration Attitudes." American Politics Research 39, no. 2 (March 2011):

323-343. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed March 29,

2017).
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Appendix

Stata Code
corr Obama_therm patriot_flag
reg patriot_flag Obama_therm
reg patriot_flag Obama_therm pid_x
reg patriot_flag Obama_therm dem_educ3
reg patriot_flag Obama_therm dhs_threat_x
reg patriot_flag Obama_therm pid_x dem_educ3 dhs_threat_x

gen black1=black
label define blacklbl 0 "Non-Black" 1 "Black"
label values black1 blacklbl

set more off


reg patriot_flag c.Obama_therm##i.black1
margins, at(Obama_therm= (0 (1) 100) black1=( 0 (1) 1)) atmeans
marginsplot, xdimension(Obama_therm) recast(line) recastci(rarea) ytitle("Flag Emotion") xtitle
("Obama Feeling") xmtick (0 (10) 100) title(Obama Thermometer And Flag Emotion for Blacks and Non-
Blacks) ylabel (1 "Extremely good" 2 "Very good" 3 "Moderately good" 4 "Slightly good" 5 "Not good at
all")

twoway scatter patriot_flag Obama_therm, jitter (40 40)

Flag Tabulation
Emotion seeing flag fly Freq. Percent Cum.

1. Extremely good 2,357 43.10 43.10


2. Very good 1,668 30.50 73.60
3. Moderately good 923 16.88 90.47
4. Slightly good 368 6.73 97.20
5. Not good at all 153 2.80 100.00
Total 5,469 100.00
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Correlation
Obama_therm patriot_flag
Obama_therm 1
patriot_flag 0.1221 1

Regression Results
Control Variable P-Value
None 0.000
pid_x 0.767
dem_educ3 0.000
dhs_threat 0.000
pid_x dem_educ3 dhs_threat_x 0.281
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Margins plot

Scatterplot