British Journal of Social Psychology

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Exposure to the American flag polarizes democratic‐republican ideologies

Some prior research has suggested that exposure to the American flag tilts Americans towards Republicanism, while others have proffered that it brings outs a common ‘together’ perspective instead. We explore a third possibility – that it may actually polarize Americans’ political ideology. It is generally accepted that exposure to an environmental cue can shift attitudes and behaviours, at least partly or temporarily, in a manner that is consistent with that cue. Yet, the same cue can mean different things to different people. In the same vein, given how national identity and political ideology are intertwined in the United States, we hypothesize that the American flag should heighten different political beliefs depending on individuals’ political ideology. To Democrats, being American is to support Democratic values, but to Republicans, being American is to support Republican values. The American flag thus should heighten Democrats of their Democratic identity, and it should heighten Republicans of their Republican one. The results of an experiment with 752 American respondents who were representative of the US population supported this polarizing effect of the American flag. The theoretical and policy implications of the findings are offered.

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