What is Democracy? (56): The Effect of Unconscious Priming?

People in advertising have long known that exposure to certain images – perhaps even subliminally – can change behavior. The same seems to be true in democratic politics. Studies have shown that American voters exposed to the American flag are increasingly supportive of the Republican Party, even if they identify as Democrats, and even if the exposure is fleeting. This effect can last up to 8 months. Exposure to the Confederate activates negativity toward Blacks and results in lowered willingness to vote for Obama. In 2007, Israeli researchers showed that even subliminal exposure to a national flag influences voters (in their study, it encourages voters to support politically moderate views).

This is proof of a lack of voter rationality and of the limited effect or even the futility of deliberation. It’s all very depressing and, when taken together with some other disturbing facts about democracy, it makes you reconsider the supposedly good reasons for promoting democratic governance. Let’s hope nobody in the Middle East is listening.

More posts in this series are here.


3 thoughts on “What is Democracy? (56): The Effect of Unconscious Priming?

  1. Very good reasoning on the motivation of flags and banners. Its all true, Lincoln was supposedly quoted saying “you can fool most of the people some of the time etc”, but that was actually made up from something he said years earlier and made poetic after his death. The true quote went more like ” people are stupid and you can get away with almost anything but there’s always those few who see right though to the truth and may expose you. This stands true through out time. Nobody does anything unless their getting something out of it. With flags, the political parties get you for or against something even if it goes against your better judgment and there lies the travesty.

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