“Patriots or Criminals?: An Experiment on Public Perception of Social Movements.”

Status: Working Paper – Please do not cite or distribute without permission

PDF of Manuscript

Abstract: Social movement scholars have assumed riots are distinguished from protests based on the presence of violence in the former. Yet, research has never demonstrated that the public views both events as distinct, nor how much violence is required to qualify as a riot. The race of event participants could also play a role, with events attended by blacks viewed as riots and events attended by whites as protests. Determining the factors that distinguish riots from protests can help explain why one movement is successful in persuading opinion, and clarify why the public views some events as legitimate civic expression and others as hooliganism. I conduct an experiment to test if an event’s violence level and the actors’ race, as described by the media, influence perceptions of the event as a riot or protest. I find that as violence increases, respondents are more likely to call the event a riot, yet surprisingly, race has no effect.

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