Is It Parody, Or Is It Harvard?

Are Republicans more patriotic than Democrats? I think so, in general. But does celebrating the Fourth of July turn you into a Republican? That seemingly far-fetched claim is advanced in this paper by two scholars from Harvard’s Kennedy School and Bocconi University.

When I started reading the paper, I thought it could be a parody:

This paper investigates the impact of Fourth of July celebrations in the US during childhood on partisanship and participation later in life. Using daily precipitation data to proxy for exogenous variation in participation on Fourth of July as a child, we examine the role of the celebrations for people born in 1920-1990. We find that days without rain on Fourth of July in childhood have lifelong effects.

The methodology is complex and highly mathematical. Climate change even rears its head:

The challenge faced when implementing this idea in a regression framework concerns estimating the likelihood of rain on a specific Fourth of July for each cohort born between 1920 and 1990. If the probability of rain would be constant across years at a given geographic location, the problem could be solved by simply using fixed effects for the proper geographic identifier, such as the county. This is insufficient, however, as the likelihood of Fourth of July rain has decreased over time (results not shown). Hence, even conditional on county, climate change has lead [sic] to earlier cohorts experiencing more rainy Fourth of Julys on average than later cohort. To address the possibility that heterogeneous rainfall trends across different U.S. regions could be correlated with other determinants of political preferences and behavior, we include a set of fixed effects, time trends, and individual covariates.15 Specifically, to investigate whether Fourth of July affects preferences and behavior, we use OLS to estimate the following specification

(1) yi,b,c,t = bRain f reeJuly4i,b,c,t + lc + tb + qt + ds  t + gXi + #c,i,

where yi,b,c,t is the outcome of interest (political party identification, voting behavior, and political participation) for individual i, born in year b, living in county c, and surveyed in election year t.

OK, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here are the key findings of the study:

We find that days without rain on Fourth of July in childhood have lifelong effects. In particular, they shift adult views and behavior in favor of the Republicans and increase later-life political participation. Our estimates are significant: 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.

Do I believe it? I don’t doubt that gowing up in a family that makes a big deal out of the Fourth of July is positively correlated with being a Republican. My guess, however, is that no one will be able to replicate the finding that losing a single July 4 celebration to rain between the ages of 7 and 10–the study finds these to be the most influential years–is enough to skew one’s later political leanings.

Just in case, however, here is a suggestion: if you have young children, and if it rains on Monday where you live, don’t take any chances. Celebrate the holiday anyway. Set off fireworks in your garage. Launch bottle rockets from your deck. March around the living room with flags. Read the Declaration of Independence out loud. Take no chances on your kids growing up to be Democrats!

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