Monday, July 04, 2011

Fourth of July

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was always sunny and warm—even hot. We had a barbecue, burgers at first, steak in later years. Watermelon was available, and so, too, was my dad’s homemade rootbeer—if we were lucky. The parades were fun, and so were the fireworks. It was one of my favourite holidays.

So why am I not a conservative Republican?

A new study from Harvard University claims that the Fourth of July helps create more lifelong Republicans. Yes, seriously.

The study (PDF available here) says that “one Fourth of July without rain before age 18 raises the likelihood of identifying as a Republican by 2 percent and voting for the Republican candidate by 4 percent. It also increases voter turnout by 0.9 percent and boosts political campaign contributions by 3 percent.” Uh, huh.
“We show that the likelihood that an adult at age 40 identifies as a Republican increases by 0.76 percentage points for each rain-free Fourth of July during childhood, where childhood is defined as the ages of 3-18. There is no evidence of an increased likelihood of identifying as a Democrat, indicating that Fourth of July shifts preferences to the right rather than increasing political polarization.”
The researchers looked at sunny weather specifically because:
“…fireworks, parades, political speeches, and barbecues are typically held outdoors. Parents and children are less likely to participate if it is raining, and events are often cancelled due to bad weather. Some children growing up experience nice weather and are more likely to celebrate, while others are hit by bad weather making it less likely that they join the festivities.”
This would supposedly correct for bad memories (for example, I actually have no idea how many of my childhood Fourths were rained out, and I have no idea how many events I participated in on the sunny ones). I think the researchers too easily discounted the possibility that those who are most likely to participate in Fourth of July events are already Republican families, as mine was.

Their thesis is that “patriotism”, as shown on the Fourth, is more closely aligned with Republican identity and values, and children, who are at their most impressionable, are susceptible to absorbing this Republican identity. They say the changes are permanent.

I have two problems with these conclusions: First, if their assertion of permanence was true, it should be rare for people to change partisan identity, yet plenty do (I did). Most damning is that if their hypothesis was true, there ought to be ever increasing numbers of Republicans, but the opposite is true.

Also, if you look at their rainfall data map (included in the report), California ought to be Republican, while Florida, New Mexico and Montana ought to be Democratic. To me, this says that rainfall on July 4 isn’t a good indicator of political orientation.

Their problem is that correlation is not causality, and the fact that some of their data seems to match up does not establish cause and effect. They suggest studies of other countries to see if there is a similar relationship, and that’s fine, but I’ve seen nothing in this study that convincingly contradicts earlier studies showing the importance of family and immediate community as the greatest influences on what political identity a child grows up with.

Sometimes, the Fourth of July is just fun.


Roger Owen Green said...

did you see the ABCNews story re this, esp the parades part. A woman from Massachusetts was LIVID about the findings.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yes I did see that. In fact, I had a genuine WTF?! moment right there and then!