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Symposium Year: 2013
Student(s): Samantha Calhoun, Emily Creegan, Jennifer Cruz, Brandon Petenbrink, Alexander Poland
Faculty Mentor(s): Dr. Paul C. Bernhardt
Basking in reflected glory (BIRG) is a self-presentation behavior used to improve self-esteem by advertising affiliation with successful others. Previous studies have both supported and failed to support that BIRG occurs with persons’ display of political yard signs. Studies of Presidential and parliamentary contests (Europe) have found people more likely to leave up signs for winners than signs for losers after the election is decided. But, lower level contests have not found that effect. With this study we tried to explicitly resolve these findings by application of Sociometer Theory. According to Sociometer Theory, self-esteem is our judgment of our standing among others, and we act with intent to change others’ opinions about our self. That leads to our hypothesis: That we would find the BIRG effect only in the contests with high public interest. Before Election Day, 2012, researchers recorded 729 political signs displayed at 531 addresses across four communities in Maryland. After Election Day, researchers returned to the previously recorded addresses and noted which signs remained on display. BIRG effects were only seen in the Presidential contest, with 53 of 132 (40.2%) signs remaining up for Obama but only 47 of 196 (24.0%) signs remaining up for Romney (χ2[df = 1, N = 328] = 9.734, p = .002). For the other seven contests (e.g., county commission, U.S. Senate, ballot questions) for which a statistical test could be performed, there was no BIRG effect observed. To discern public interest, the relative number of searches originating in Maryland the week before Election Day were noted for each contest using Google Trends. It showed the Presidential contest had the greatest interest with 3 to more than 5 times more searches than the next highest (ballot question 6) and 18 to 33 times more searches than the next highest public office election. These findings help explain the previous findings confirming and not confirming BIRG behavior with political yard signs. These findings are also consistent with an important theory of self-esteem, Sociometer Theory, that BIRG should not happen with basking objects we believe others will not recognize.
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