Social Protest in Times of Social Distancing: Black Lives Matter and COVID-19
76 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 22, 2021
Why did the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gain unprecedented momentum in the midst of a pandemic? In this paper, we use county-day-level variation in the timing and magnitude of exposure to COVID-19 to causally identify its effect on protests. Using super spreader events as a source of plausible exogenous variation, we find that counties that are more affected by the pandemic also experience an increase in protest behavior. We present several alternative identification strategies and a battery of robustness checks to confirm the validity of our results. We distinguish empirically between various mechanisms: availability of resources, opportunity costs of protesting, salience of racial inequality, and increased signaling value of protest. Our evidence suggests that the pandemic has mobilized new allies that join the movement for the first time during the pandemic. We can attribute this to a rise in the salience of racial inequalities in the United States. At the same time, counties that traditionally engaged in protest (urban counties with a large Black population shares) respond less to an increase in COVID-19 exposure as they are also the ones most severely affected by the pandemic and caught in what we call the "protest poverty trap".
Keywords: BLM, COVID-19, protest
JEL Classification: P16, D7
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation