The Social Desirability of Rallying ’Round the Flag

  • R. UrbatschEmail author
Original Paper


Identifying the sincerity of shifts in public opinion is difficult: survey settings involve social pressure to provide seemingly popular answers. Names for newborn children in the United States provide an alternative, behavioral measure that can indicate the presence of social-desirability bias. First names typically exceed middle names in visibility and hence sensitivity to social-desirability effects. First names should therefore be more likely to change when name-givers wish to conform to widespread sentiments they do not share. This hypothesis is explored during foreign-policy crises (rallies): French-derived first, but not middle, names declined as anti-French sentiment rose around the 2003 Iraq War, yet no analogous divergence emerged after the 11 September 2001 attacks. Treating all rallies as equally meaningful may then produce misleading analyses of public opinion; seeming waves in political views may reflect conformist dissimulation rather than actual attitudes.


Foreign policy Social desirability Behavioral measures Attitudes Names 



I thank David Andersen, Olga Chyzh, Tessa Ditonto, and Mark Nieman, along with Political Behavior’s anonymous reviewers and editorial staff, for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this project, and Jonathan Hassid for comments on its first half.

Supplementary material

11109_2019_9540_MOESM1_ESM.doc (284 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 283 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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