Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements

58 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2017  

Matthew Feinberg

University of Toronto - Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

Robb Willer

Stanford University

Chloe Kovacheff

University of Toronto - Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

Date Written: February 3, 2017

Abstract

Social movements are critical agents of change that vary greatly in both tactics and popular support. Prior work shows that extreme protest tactics – actions that are highly counter-normative, disruptive, or harmful to others, including inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, and damaging property – are effective for gaining publicity. However, we find across three experiments that extreme protest tactics decreased popular support for a given cause because they reduced feelings of identification with the movement. Though this effect obtained in tests of popular responses to extreme tactics used by animal rights, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump protests (Studies 1-3), we found that self-identified political activists were willing to use extreme tactics because they believed them to be effective for recruiting popular support (Studies 4a & 4b). The activist’s dilemma – wherein tactics that raise awareness also tend to reduce popular support – highlights a key challenge faced by social movements struggling to affect progressive change.

Keywords: Social Movements, Activism, Collective Action, Protest Tactics

Suggested Citation

Feinberg, Matthew and Willer, Robb and Kovacheff, Chloe, Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements (February 3, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2911177 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2911177

Matthew Feinberg (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management ( email )

United States

Robb Willer

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Chloe Kovacheff

University of Toronto - Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management ( email )

United States

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