Can Protests Expand the Scope of Conflict? Evidence from City Records and Online Activity
34 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2018 Last revised: 19 Jul 2018
Date Written: June 8, 2018
Pluralism scholars and activists have long theorized that protests can “expand the scope of conflict” by increasing public attention to an issue, but data necessary for a formal causal test has only recently become available. To test this claim, I merge an original dataset of over 400 local protests in three US cities with daily, geo-referenced Google Search data. I show that protests can have a short-term but significant effect on the public’s willingness to actively seek out information related to the protest. To place the effect size in context, I analyze the subset of protests on topics that Pres. Trump also tweeted about. I find that a local protest garners about 60% the amount of public attention as a tweet by the President does on that same topic. Across different cities and different topics, protests can be a powerful tool for activists seeking to engage a larger audience.
Keywords: protests, pluralism, public interest, internet search
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