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Why conservatives are so angry about an unfolded American flag at Hillary Clinton's event

A Washington Post photographer found an American flag unfolded on the floor ahead of Hillary Clinton's election watch party.
A Washington Post photographer found an American flag unfolded on the floor ahead of Hillary Clinton's election watch party.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Another Hillary Clinton scandal is afoot in conservative media: Her campaign supposedly violated the US Flag Code in New Hampshire Tuesday, as shown by a Washington Post photo.

The Post tweeted a photo of the Clinton campaign preparing for the election night party that displayed an American flag in a pile on the floor Tuesday, with the caption, "With many hours to go, Clinton's staff has flags ready for their election night party."

The internet responded to the post with a crowdsourced investigation into the flag's actual position. Was it on the floor? On a raised platform? On the bleachers?

According to the Clinton campaign, the flag was left on stage briefly while the production crew was working on mounting it.

The underlying question was whether Clinton's staff was in violation of US Flag Code. According to Title 4, Article 8 of the code, "The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise."

The response to the photo, mostly from conservative voters, was overwhelmingly one of anger that Clinton's staff would disrespect and disparage the American flag by leaving it unfolded on the floor. Clinton's staff apologized for the mistake.

"Hillary Clinton and her team have the utmost respect for the flag and for those who serve," a Clinton campaign aide said. "A contractor clearly made a mistake in leaving the flag on a stage. We have made clear to our team this is unacceptable."

This is mostly controversial to conservatives, who tend to take patriotic symbols more seriously

The significance of the flag's handling, a universal symbol of patriotism, is one that closely echoes differences in party lines. A 2014 Pew Research study found that Democrats and Republicans identify differently with expressions of patriotism.

Among conservatives, 81 percent of "business conservatives" and 72 percent of "steadfast conservatives" said they identified with the phrase "often feel proud to be American," whereas only 40 percent of "solid liberals" said they related to the same phrase. The rest said the description did not accurately describe them.

Conservatives More Likely to Say They Are ‘Often Proud to be American’

This conservative lean toward patriotism was echoed again with expressions of honor and duty, where 70 percent of "business conservatives" said the phrase "honor and duty are my core values" fit them. Forty percent of "solid liberals" related to this statement.

Patriotism, honor, and duty were strong themes in the reactions to the Washington Post flag photo, which included many comments referencing people's family members who had died defending the flag.

Veterans, particularly, might have found such a symbol offensive. Most veterans identify closely with the Republican Party, according to research that University of Austin Texas government professor David Leal and Ramapo College political science professor Jeremy Teigen published in the Post.

Even so, both parties make a serious effort to reach out to veterans, in part because they are more likely to vote than nonveterans, even in minority groups, according to Teigen's research.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in particular has made veteran issues a big talking point in his campaign, skipping the Iowa GOP debate to host a fundraiser for veterans benefit organizations.