“Rallying Support or Strengthening Resistance: How do Protests Influence Public Opinion of Policy?”

Status: Working Paper – Please do not cite or distribute without permission

PDF of Manuscript

Abstract: Protesters generally engage in activities to 1) focus the public’s attention on an issue or policy that protesters believe should be changed, and 2) to apply pressure to those in power to make the changes sought by the protesters. Yet, all tactics used by protesters or other activist groups do not uniformly achieve these objectives. Some tactics lead to success, others can have the opposite effect, galvanizing the public against the protesters and hardening the resistance by leaders. What tactics advance protesters’ objectives and what tactics undermine them? An experiment tests how different protest tactics influence public opinion about a protest movement and one’s willingness to join the protest. Protest tactics that are more disruptive are found to lead to greater opposition towards the protest, both by lowering the public’s opinion of the event and decreasing the likelihood they join it. Understanding what protest tactics generate increased support or opposition among the public is important for activists seeking to promote social change, as well as for political leaders seeking to stay on the right side of potentially contentious issues with their electorate.

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