Do political protests matter? Evidence from the Tea Party movement

Reuters

People wave signs at a "tea party" protest on the grounds of the Colorado state capitol in Denver April 15, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • Can protests cause political change, or are they merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences?

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  • Results show that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policymaking.

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  • The Tea Party movement rose to prominence through coordinated rallies across the US on Tax Day.

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Abstract: Do Political Protests Matter? Evidence from the Tea Party Movement

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Can protests cause political change, or are they merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences? We address this question by studying the Tea Party movement in the United States, which rose to prominence through coordinated rallies across the country on Tax Day, April 15, 2009. We exploit variation in rainfall on the day of these rallies as an exogenous source of variation in attendance. We show that good weather at this initial, coordinating event had significant consequences for the subsequent local strength of the movement, increased public support for Tea Party positions, and led to more Republican votes in the 2010 midterm elections. Policymaking was also affected, as incumbents responded to large protests in their district by voting more conservatively in Congress. Our estimates suggest significant multiplier effects: an additional protester increased the number of Republican votes by a factor well above one. Together our results show that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policymaking, and that these effects arise from influencing political views rather than solely through the revelation of existing political preferences.

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About the Author

 

Stan
Veuger

  • Stan Veuger is a resident scholar at AEI.  His academic research focuses on political economy, and has been published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. He writes frequently for popular audiences on a variety of topics, including health and tax policy. He is a regular contributor to The Hill, The National Interest, U.S. News & World Report, and AEIdeas, AEI’s policy blog. Before joining AEI, Dr. Veuger was a teaching fellow at Harvard University and Universitat Pompeu Fabra. He is a board member of the Netherland-American Foundation in Washington and at The Bulwark, a quarterly public policy journal, and was a National Review Institute Washington Fellow. He is a graduate of Utrecht University and Erasmus University Rotterdam, and holds an M.Sc. in Economics from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, as well as A.M. and Ph.D. degrees, also in Economics, from Harvard University. His academic research website can be found here.


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