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 issue.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.