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What's in a Photo? A Political Analysis of Gubernatorial Portraits

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Republican governors are eight times more likely to wear flag pins on their lapels than Democrats, and three times more likely to wear red ties over blue

A governor's official portrait is, to be sure, more than simply a photo capturing a moment in time.

The portrait is an enduring image that brands the governor as it becomes the go-to photo reproduced on hundreds and hundreds of occasions across print, television, and digital media outlets.

Although most governors adhere to traditional formalities of dress and decorum for these photographs, the way in which a governor presents his or herself around the edges is rarely left to chance, with a critical eye towards not only wearing the right smile, but also effectively utilizing important symbols - from flags all the way down to the choice of tie color.

Such symbolism can create quite powerful images - and the choices a governor makes in adorning his or herself may reveal a lot to constituents.

And what choices have the current crop of governors made in their photographs?

Smart Politics content analyzed the official portraits of the nation's 50 governors and found that Republicans were more likely to pose with a state or U.S. flag than Democrats and more than eight times as likely to decorate their suit with a lapel flag pin.

Republicans were also three times as likely to choose a red tie over a blue tie, whereas the red-vs.-blue tie selection was virtually split down the middle among Democratic governors.

Note: The photos analyzed for this report are the official portraits, usually appearing prominently on gubernatorial websites. For the small number of governors for which no such official photo was available on-site, either the photo on the governor's official Facebook page or the most prominently displayed photo on the state website was used (e.g. usually on the top banner).

Capturing the Flag

Governors chose to sit for their official portraits with flags in the background at nearly twice the rate (32) as those that did not (18).

GOP governors were slightly more likely to be captured by the lens alongside a U.S. or state flag (20 of 29, 69 percent) as their Democratic colleagues (12 of 20, 60 percent), unlike the findings of a 2010 Smart Politics study of campaign websites of U.S. Representatives, that discovered Republicans incorporated flags at a much higher rate than Democrats.

· Three Republican governors and one Democrat were photographed in front of the U.S. flag: GOPers Robert Bentley (Alabama), Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania), Matt Mead (Wyoming), and Democrat Deval Patrick (Massachusetts).

· Five Republicans and two Democrats posed in front of their respective state flags: GOPers Sam Brownback (Kansas), Haley Barbour (Mississippi), Dave Heineman (Nebraska), Rick Perry (Texas), Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Democrats Mike Beebe (Arkansas) and Martin O'Malley (Maryland).

· Another 21 governors, 12 Republicans and nine Democrats, incorporated both the U.S. and state flags in their portrait backdrops.

On the Republican side: Rick Scott (Florida), Terry Branstad (Iowa, pictured), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Paul LePage (Maine), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), John Kasich (Ohio), Mary Fallin (Oklahoma), Nikki Haley (South Carolina), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Bob McDonnell (Virginia).

For the Democrats: John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Jack Markell (Delaware), Pat Quinn (Illinois) Steve Beshear (Kentucky), Mark Dayton (Minnesota), Jay Nixon (Missouri), John Lynch (New Hampshire), Peter Shumlin (Vermont), and Earl Ray Tomblin (West Virginia).

Wearing the Flag

But while Democratic governors were nearly as likely to pose with a flag as Republicans, GOP governors definitely raised the bar when it came to wearing the flag - adding an extra layer of symbolism to their portraits.

The partisan breakdown of flag pin-wearing governors was 12 for the Republicans and just one for the Democrats.

That means GOP governors were eight times more likely to wear a flag pin on their lapel (41 percent) than their Democratic counterparts (5 percent).

Independent Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island also did not wear a flag pin in his portrait.

The only Democratic governor to sport such a pin in an official portrait was John Kitzhaber, who wore an Oregon state pin.

For the Republicans:

· Those wearing U.S. flag pins in their photographs are Robert Bentley (Alabama), Rick Scott (Florida, pictured), Terry Branstad (Iowa), Dave Heineman (Nebraska), Gary Herbert (Utah), and Scott Walker (Wisconsin).

· Those wearing state pins are New Jersey's Chris Christie and North Dakota's Jack Dalrymple.

· And Republicans wearing pins of both the U.S. flag and their respective state are Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Rick Snyder (Michigan), Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina).

Note: Two additional GOP governors were photographed wearing pins, although not of the U.S. or state flags. Rick Perry of Texas wears a "Silver Antelope" pin on his left lapel in his portrait, an award given for outstanding longtime service to the Boy Scouts of America. Matt Mead of Wyoming, meanwhile, wears a U.S. Attorney's pin in his portrait (Mead was an attorney for the District of Wyoming for six years under George W. Bush).

But there is one governor, more than any other across the nation, who goes 'all in' when it comes to the power of the symbolism of flags - Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Jindal is one of only two governors - along with Nikki Haley - to be photographed with both the American and state flags in his backdrop as well as on his lapels.

Interestingly, Jindal and Haley are the only Indian-American governors in U.S. history.

Jindal, however, does Haley one better by getting photographed with a pair of U.S. and a pair of Louisiana state flags in his backdrop, whereas Haley utilizes just one of each in her portrait.

In total, adding in lapel pins, Jindal appears alongside the images of six flags in his official portrait - more than any other governor.

By contrast, 15 governors did not have any flags in their backdrops or on their clothing: Sean Parnell (Alaska), Jan Brewer (Arizona), Jerry Brown (California), Dan Malloy (Connecticut), Nathan Deal (Georgia), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Butch Otter (Idaho), Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Brian Schweitzer (Montana), Andrew Cuomo (New York), Bev Perdue (North Carolina), Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island), Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), Bill Haslam (Tennessee), and Christine Gregoire (Washington).

Flag Symbols in Gubernatorial Portraits

State
Governor
Party
Flag
Pin
AK
Sean Parnell
GOP
None
None
AL
Robert Bentley
GOP
US 
US
AZ
Jan Brewer
GOP
None
None
AR
Mike Beebe
Dem
State
None
CA
Jerry Brown
Dem
None
None
CO
John Hickenlooper
Dem
US and state
None
CT
Dan Malloy
Dem
None
None
DE
Jack Markell
Dem
US and state
None
FL
Rick Scott
GOP
US and state
US
GA
Nathan Deal
GOP
None
None
HI
Neil Abercrombie
Dem
None
None
IA
Terry Branstad
GOP
US and state
US
ID
Butch Otter
GOP
None
None
IL
Pat Quinn
Dem
US and state
None
IN
Mitch Daniels
GOP
None
None
KS
Sam Brownback
GOP
State
None
KY
Steve Beshear
Dem
US and state
None
LA
Bobby Jindal
GOP
US and state
US and state
MA
Deval Patrick
Dem
US
None
MD
Martin O'Malley
Dem
State
None
ME
Paul LePage
GOP
US and state
None
MI
Rick Snyder
GOP
None
US and state
MN
Mark Dayton
DFL
US and state
None
MO
Jay Nixon
Dem
US and state
None
MS
Haley Barbour
GOP
State
None
MT
Brian Schweitzer
Dem
None
None
NC
Beverly Perdue
Dem
None
None
ND
Jack Dalrymple
GOP
None
State
NE
Dave Heineman
GOP
State
US
NH
John Lynch
Dem
US and state
None
NJ
Chris Christie
GOP
US and state
State
NM
Susana Martinez
GOP
US and state
None
NV
Brian Sandoval
GOP
US and state
None
NY
Andrew Cuomo
Dem
None
None
OH
John Kasich
GOP
US and state
None
OK
Mary Fallin
GOP
US and state
None
OR
John Kitzhaber
Dem
None
State
PA
Tom Corbett
GOP
US
US and state
RI
Lincoln Chafee
Ind
None
None
SC
Nikki Haley
GOP
US and state
US and state
SD
Dennis Daugaard
GOP
None
None
TN
Bill Haslam
GOP
None
None
TX
Rick Perry
GOP
State
Other
UT
Gary Herbert
GOP
US and state
US
VT
Peter Shumlin
Dem
US and state
None
VA
Bob McDonnell
GOP
US and state
None
WA
Christine Gregoire
Dem
None
None
WI
Scott Walker
GOP
State
US
WV
Earl Ray Tomblin
Dem
US and state
None
WY
Matt Mead
GOP
US
Other
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Red for Republican

Putting the finishing touches on the governor's portrait is, of course, the clothes themselves and (for the 44 male governors), their choice of ties.

Overall, Republicans were three times as likely to choose a red tie over a blue tie, with well more than half of the 25 male GOPers (15, or 60 percent) sporting red - the modern symbolic color of the Party - around their neck.

Five Republican governors, however, chose to brazenly wear blue - the modern Democratic symbol - with four of these coming from strongly Republican states: Sean Parnell (Alaska), Dennis Daugaard (South Dakota), Bill Haslam (Tennessee), and Matt Mead (Wyoming) along with Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania).

Another two Republican governors wore ties that were equal parts red and blue (Jindal and Virginia's Bob McDonnell), while Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Sam Brownback (Kansas) chose yellow and Gary Herbert (Utah) wore gray.

Democrats, however, dressed a little differently for their portraits.

For example, more male Democratic governors opted for red ties (seven) than blue ties (six), or 39 and 33 percent respectively.

Democrats wearing red include Mike Beebe (Arkansas), Dan Malloy (Connecticut), Jack Markell (Delaware), Martin O'Malley (Maryland), Jay Nixon (Missouri), Brian Schweitzer (Montana), and John Lynch (New Hampshire).

On top of that, three male Democratic governors chose not to even wear a tie at all (apparently not a viable option on the GOP side).

The three governors who dressed down were all from the West: Colorado's John Hickenlooper (pictured), Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie, and Oregon's John Kitzhaber.

And then there is this footnote: As for shirts (or blouses), 31 governors opted for white, 12 chose blue, with one green, one red, one purple, and one black. Three female governors opted for blue suits without visible shirts.

Choice of Tie Color in Official Portraits for Male Governors by Party

Color
Democrat
Republican
Independent
Total
Red
7
15
0
22
Blue
6
5
0
11
Yellow
1
2
1
4
Red & Blue
0
2
0
2
Orange
1
0
0
1
Gray
0
1
0
1
No tie
3
0
0
3
Note: Dominate color tallied for non-solid neckties. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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1 Comment


  • While the wearing of Flags or Pins may have some outward significance of allegiance, what really holds the most importance to my mind is, what kind of character lives behind that well meaning smile? Does this person have honorable intentions? Will Honesty and Integrity prevail in their decision making? That's where it's at for me.

  • Leave a comment


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