Social Protest and Policy Attitudes: The Case of the 2006 Immigrant Rallies

The forthcoming article, “Social Protest and Policy Attitudes: The Case of the 2006 Immigrant Rallies” by Valerie Martinez-Ebers  is summarized here:


Mass demonstration has been characterized as the “defining trope of our times” (Andersen

2011). The scope and number of protests in one year alone was so exceptional that “The

Protester” was recognized as the 2011 Person of the Year by Time magazine. Individuals

participate in political protests for the purpose of making their opinion heard, in an attempt to

influence public opinion and, ultimately, government actions. Do protests actually sway public

opinion? If so, why and how? To answer these questions, we exploited an opportunity that

occurred in the spring of 2006 when activists staged rallies across the U.S. in protest of H.R.

4437 (Border Protection and Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005), a bill

that would have increased penalties on undocumented immigrants and anyone who employed

or assisted them. While these protests were occurring, the Latino National Survey (LNS) was

in the field. About a third of the LNS respondents were surveyed prior to the protests, and the

rest were surveyed afterwards. This allowed us to examine whether policy preferences were

noticeably different after the protests.


Generally speaking, our analysis found that respondents interviewed after the rallies began

generally expressed greater support for less restrictive immigration policy options than

respondents surveyed before the protests. Our second finding was that among respondents

surveyed after the protests began, those living in areas where a protest occurred were more

supportive of less restrictive policy than those living in areas with no protests. However,

the influence of the protests was not uniform across the population. Those most likely to be

negatively affected by H.R. 4437 (i.e. noncitizens and their relatives and friends) were the most

supportive of amnesty – the least restrictive option. Interestingly though, support for amnesty

also increased among citizens – both naturalized and native-born –as their exposure or proximity

to local protests increased.


Our study, we think, advances our knowledge regarding social protest in several ways. First, it

demonstrates that protest influences policy preferences. Second, it illustrates that spatial exposure or

closer proximity increases the influence of the protest on policy preferences. Third, individual-level

characteristics may moderate the effect of the protest. Thus, our study suggests a more nuanced idea of

how protest influences attitudes among individuals within a group or groups tied to a particular protest


The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association. AJPS is published by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing and supported by the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the MSU College of Social Science.

Editor-in-Chief, William G. Jacoby

Managing Editor, Robert N. Lupton

Editorial Interns

Miles T. Armaly, Adam Enders

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Impact Factor: 3.269

ISI Journal Citation Ranking:

2014: 4/161 (Political Science)

Online ISSN: 1540-5907

Print ISSN: 0092-5853

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The Editor of the AJPS is at Michigan State University and the Editorial Office is supported by
the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the School of Social Sciences.

  Michigan State University 
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