Does July 4th Make Children Become Republicans?

This paper investigates the role of Fourth of July celebrations in shaping political views and behavior in the United States. We study the impact of Fourth of July during childhood on partisanship and participation later in life. Our method uses daily precipitation data from 1920-1990 to proxy for exogenous variation in participation on Fourth of July as a child. The estimates imply that days without rain on Fourth of July in childhood increase the likelihood of identifying with the Republicans as an adult, voting for the Republican but not the Democratic candidate, and voter turnout. Our findings are significant: one Fourth of July without rain before age 18 increases the likelihood of identifying as a Republican at age 40 by 2 percent, the share of people voting for the Republican candidate at age 40 by 4 percent, and the share of people turning out to vote at age 40 by 0.9 percent. The evidence is consistent with childhood experience having foundational effects less susceptible to adult political influence. It also suggests that there is political congruence between patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and Republican beliefs, as well as Fourth of July transmitting a non-partisan civic duty to vote.

From this paper (pdf) by Andreas Madestam and David Yanagizawa-Drott.  (Hat tip to Patrick Flavin.)  The logic is that on sunny July 4th days, people are more likely to participate in July 4th celebrations.  Here are some other findings from the paper:

  • There is a contemporaneous relationship between rain-free July 4th days and party identification in adulthood, not just in childhood.

  • Sunny days on July 2, 3, 5, and 6 don’t manifest this same relationship.

  • The relationship with party identification appear most notable for children ages 7-10 and 11-14.

  • The relationship with party identification are apparent in predominantly Republican counties, but not Democratic counties.  The relationship with turnout are apparent in both types of counties.

  • The relationship with party identification are present for birth cohorts from each decade between 1920-70, but not cohorts from later decades.  Madestam and Yanagizawa-Drott suggest that participation in July 4th celebrations may have declined for later cohorts as part of a decline in social capital.

In sum, if you were born before 1970, and experienced sunny July 4th days between the ages of 7-14, and lived in a predominantly Republican county, you may be more Republican as a consequence.

When I first read the abstract, I did not believe the findings at all.  I doubted whether July 4th celebrations were all that influential.  And the effects seem to occur too early in the life cycle: would an 8-year-old would be affected politically?  Doesn’t the average 8-year-old care more about fireworks than patriotism?

But the paper does a lot of spadework and, ultimately, I was left thinking “Huh, maybe this is true.”  I’m still not certain, but it was worth a blog post.


12 Responses to Does July 4th Make Children Become Republicans?

  1. Manoel Galdino July 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    I didn’t read the paper, but it got me wondering: ecological fallacy? anyone?

  2. Bill July 1, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    This sounds ridiculous on its face. But if it’s true, is it too late to organize some cloud seeding on Monday?

  3. Daniel L. July 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Just based on the summary, I wonder if the underlying effect they’re finding is actually something more like “propensity to be politically engaged, given Republican-leaning tendencies (as indicated by living in a Republican county).” In other words, maybe what’s actually going on is that folks who have lots of positive memories of feeling a particular kind of patriotism are more likely to pay attention to politics, and given that they’re in Republican counties, that results in Republican-identification & voting. That would be supported if the rainy-July-4th-ers were more likely to be “independents,” not Democrats.

  4. MikeM July 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Arizona has less rain than New York. So what’s new?

    • hb July 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      Location fixed effects dude.

  5. frankcross July 1, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    What’s most fascinating to me is the decision of the researchers to investigate this question. Who would have hypothesized this?

  6. Mike Sances July 2, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    Do we think two percent is substantively significant?

  7. Seth July 2, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    In sum, if you were born before 1970, and experienced sunny July 4th days between the ages of 7-14, and lived in a predominantly Republican county, you may be more Republican as a consequence.
    Yes, yes, and yes. My NOMINATE score is supposed to be more negative. Who do I sue?

  8. ricketson July 2, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    For the age thing: I remember being very patriotic when I was a kid (around 8). Specifically, I remember being strongly convinced that Russians/Communists were our enemy.

    I don’t recall exactly how I thought of the 4th. However, I do remember concerts where the local orchestra played patriotic songs, with a fireworks finale. Of course, there are also flags waving everywhere during these celebrations. I think that even if a kid doesn’t appreciate the patriotic aspects of the celebration, s/he will at least associate these patriotic symbols with good memories.

  9. Adam July 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Yikes, did anyone actually read the study before commenting? I’m with John — I’m still not sure what to make of it; but the criticisms above simply don’t apply (for example, it’s an individual-level study, so the ecological fallacy isn’t relevant. Also, the authors controlled for geography in a number of ways).

  10. Noumenon July 3, 2011 at 6:03 am #

    The summary statistics are in table 1 on page 32. The first line says the mean number of rain-free July 4ths is 10. Does that mean the average person is 20% more likely to be a Reublican, or does the “2% per July 4th” mean that someone with 11 July 4ths is more likely to be Republican? There are so many rainfree July 4ths I can’t see this effect being that large.

  11. Polisci July 4, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I am trying to figure out how the authors determined where respondents lived as children. I know they only look at respondents who were born in the same region they lived in as adults. Do the authors assume that respondents lived in the same region/county their whole lives? Do they use historical rainfall information from the county they lived in as adults?

    I am also a bit confused about Table 7. I can’t tell how they interpreted the interaction terms. Obviously this is just a draft, but I hope in future versions they elaborate on the models in Table 7. Controlling for county party id is important, because it can be a proxy for parent’s party id, another factor that could influence a child’s political preferences.