Americans love explosions — and no explosion is more exciting than the one you’ve made yourself.
This July 4th, millions of people across the country will shell out cash at makeshift stores and roadside stands to purchase their own fireworks. And why not? Fireworks have been used to celebrate freedom since the very first anniversary of America’s independence.
But the billion-dollar industry is not welcome in many places, and based on a review of state laws, it appears Democrats are less likely to have fun this year than Republicans.
In fact, left-leaning states are almost twice as likely as right-leaning states to have strict firework regulations.
How strict? Of the states that voted Democrat in the past four presidential elections, nearly half do not allow the use of consumer fireworks — or allow only “novelty” items.
By comparison, only 4 percent of Republican-leaning states have such restrictive laws. The rest, a whopping 96 percent, allow the use of “all” or “some” consumer fireworks. Some right-leaning states like Utah have even loosened their already open laws to make this year’s July 4th celebrations all the more dazzling.
So why the disparity? Do Democrats hate fireworks?
The answer might have something to do with population density. The 10 densest states all lean Democratic. In rural states, what people do in their backyards — or 20-acre fields — is of less concern than in densely populated states like Rhode Island, where a box of Roman candles is far more likely to wake up the neighbors.
Or the answer might be more philosophical in nature. Republicans frown on government intervention and regularly espouse personal responsibility and individual freedom. Why should the nanny state steal my firecrackers if I use them safely?
Democrats, on the other hand, are more inclined to use the long arm of government to put an end to social “harms.” Seeing the dangers of fireworks — from tragic accidents to intentional mischief — Democrats might be more amenable to regulating their use. Why should innocents have to suffer at the hands of pyromaniacs?
But perhaps the best argument is the simplest one: Republicans self-report expressing their patriotism more than Democrats, and with July 4th serving as the most patriotic day of the year, it is no wonder that Republican states don’t want to dampen the mood.
This may sound like lightweight partisanship, but a recent Harvard University study confirms as much.
The study not only cites surveys affirming that “Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats” but also concludes that July 4th celebrations resonate more powerfully with Republicans. The authors also conclude that Independence Day festivities increase GOP voter turnout and influence young people to become Republicans.
The latter conclusion has garnered the most attention, with the authors finding that for each Fourth of July that wasn’t rained out, a child was more likely to become a Republican later in life.
This might explain why red states have fewer restrictions on fireworks. If Republicans have a more intimate connection to Independence Day celebrations, then you’d expect them to protect the most popular means of celebration.
Patriotic liberals will be loathe to accept this argument as an explanation for why Democratic-leaning states don’t like fireworks, but it’s tough to ignore the evidence.
Whatever the answer, one point is clear: Americans in Republican states will be painting the night sky red, white and blue this July 4th — while many of their Democratic counterparts will be lucky to twirl a sparkler.
Miles Taylor works at House Committee on Appropriations and is the co-founder of Partisans.org. He served as a White House appointee during the George W. Bush Administration at the Department of Homeland Security. His writings have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The World Politics Review, and Arms Control Today and have also been published by the Legatum Institute.