Theme Panel: The Effects of Protests in the U.S.

The Effects of Protests in the U.S.

The APSA 2018 theme is “Democracy and Its Discontents,” and the past years and months have seen a renewed interest in protests among the general public and the press in the United States, from the Tea Party to Black Lives Matter, from Occupy Wall Street to the anti-Trump Resistance. But what are the consequences of these protest movements? The four papers on this proposed panel explore that question, each coming at the same big picture question – what do protests accomplish in the US? – from different theoretical, methodological, and substantive orientations.

The papers explore the effects of protests both on the mass public and on elites and institutions. Torres uses a series of survey experiments to measure the effect of Black Lives Matter protests on overall public support for that BLM, as well as interest in future BLM events. Dumas uses data from Google Trends and Twitter to measure the effect of local protests on public attention to the protest issue. On the institutional side, Harris, Mazumder, & White estimate the effect of local BLM courtroom protests on judges’ sentencing behavior, and Spry looks at the effect of protests on police officers attitudes and perceptions of citizen violence.

The four papers all employ different methodologies. Torres uses machine vision computational methods to develop a measure of depicted violence in images of protests, and then uses survey experiments to estimate the effect of violence in a protest on attitudes towards that protest. Dumas combines local protest data from city records with geo-referenced internet activity data estimates an array of panel data models to estimate the effect of local protests on public interest in that topic. Harris, Mazumder & White combine data on BLM protests with multiple years of sentencing data. Spry combines quantitative and qualitative approaches, conducting both an analysis of protest data and surveys as well as interviews with police officers about their experiences with BLM.

While these papers all take different approaches, considered together, they all focus on a common puzzle: when outsider groups protest to achieve political change, what if anything are the consequences? Does the American Political system absorb and address their grievances, or do structural barriers stand in the way of change? And how, as political scientists, can we best develop tools to test these profound questions?

Vincent L. Hutchings, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Chair)
Alex Hanna, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Discussant)