Can Violent Protest Change Local Policy Support? Evidence from the Aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Riot

Can Violent Protest Change Local Policy Support? Evidence from the Aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Riot

By Ryan D. Enos, Harvard University, Aaron R. Kaufman, New York University, Abu Dhabi and Melissa L. Sands, University of California, Merced

Violent protests are dramatic political events, yet we know little about the effect of these events on political behavior. While scholars typically treat violent protests as deliberate acts undertaken in pursuit of specific goals, due to a lack of appropriate data and difficulty in causal identification, there is scant evidence of whether riots can actually increase support for these goals. Using geocoded data, we analyze measures of policy support before and after the 1992 Los Angeles riot—one of the most high-profile events of political violence in recent American history—that occurred just prior to an election. Contrary to some expectations from the academic literature and the popular press, we find that the riot caused a marked liberal shift in policy support at the polls. Investigating the sources of this shift, we find that it was likely the result of increased mobilization of both African American and white voters. Remarkably, this mobilization endures over a decade later.

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