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Does July 4th Make Children Become Republicans?

- July 1, 2011

bq. 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.