States promote freedom and democracy, while enemies of the United States oppose freedom and democracy. Because Americans are proud of their country and consider freedom and democracy to be good, they tend to be supportive of U.S. foreign policy, particularly if they are convinced that freedom and democracy are being promoted.
Because of the strong association between the Soviet Union and communism in the Soviet schema, Americans tended to consider Soviet allies to be communist, or to consider governments or movements labeled as communist not only to be Soviet allies, but also Soviet clones. Because of the associations of the Soviet Union and communism with oppression (the antithesis of freedom), "pro-Soviet" or "communist" governments or movements were perceived in a negative light, and U.S. policies and actions against them tended to be supported on both moral and security grounds.
The claim is not that all Americans, under all conditions, will respond to international relations in these ways. Preconceived associations are not the only influences affecting perceptions of and reactions to U.S. foreign policy. For instance, the ways in which political actors and journalists frame events and policies strongly influence how the public will perceive things.
The facts are, however, that many Americans, under many conditions, have behaved and do behave in exactly these ways. A great many U.S. interventions around the globe have been interpreted in one or more of the ways just described. For example, despite U.S. preferences for a puppet government in the South over free elections to reunify Vietnam, many Americans believed their country to be fighting for freedom and democracy in Vietnam. It was seen as necessary to fight against "the communists" because their victory would have meant both oppression in Vietnam and a cold war defeat for the United States.
The point is not that these interpretations of U.S. involvement in Vietnam were wrong, but that the preconceived associations revealed in this study make such interpretations "easy to think." If we are concerned, for instance, with understanding why it is that so many Americans supported the Vietnam War for so long, we cannot ignore evidence that Americans were cognitively predisposed to do such things.