Omar Wasow and Ali Valenzuela, Princeton University: Mobilizing and Polarizing: The Conditional Power of Police and Protester Violence

Thu, Mar 11, 2021, 12:00 pm
Zoom details in invitation
By invitation only
Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP)

Abstract: Does violence, either by activists or police, help protest movements? Current scholarship finds evidence both of mobilizing and backlash effects, depending on the particular case, model or which actor is the agent of violence (Chenoweth & Stephan 2012; Gillion 2020; Enos, Kaufman, Sands 2018; Wasow 2020). To explain these seemingly conflicting results, we conduct a survey experiment that exposed a large, multiracial subject pool to one of three news vignettes: (1) a peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest; (2) a peaceful BLM demonstration until protesters "threw rocks and bricks"; or (3) a peaceful BLM protest until police "shot rubber bullets and teargas." Building on Feinberg, Willer & Kobachev 2017, we use a series of affect questions and mediation analysis to identify mechanisms driving differential reactions to state or protester violence. Consistent with both schools of prior research and Gillion (2020)’s model of ideological protest, on a range of political outcomes we find violence can be both mobilizing for those aligned with protesters or the police but also polarizing for those less strongly attached to a particular side. This work makes an important contribution by synthesizing a seemingly disparate set of findings within one possible framework.