What do Protesters Want?

  1. Unsurprisingly, general criticisms of the current administration were the most common reasons offered for protest. About 44% of the demonstrators we surveyed expressed a general anti-Bush theme. Domestic policy issues (e.g., housing, welfare, etc.) were the second most common reason for participating in protest. 28% of respondents reported these issues as a motivation for participating in the rally.

  2. Surprisingly, the third most common reason for participating was for expressive reasons. 26% of respondents said they wanted to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly. Respondents said they wanted their voices to be heard.

  3. Even more surprising was that anti-war messages (which we coded as “foreign policy grievances”) came in fourth. About 20% of the people we surveyed listed the war, or other foreign policy issues, as a reason to protest. This may have been a function of the context. One point of our paper is that the group that organizes a rally has the biggest effect on what grievances are expressed by the participants. If we had targeted solely anti-war events, this number may have been higher.

  4. I found it interesting that only 1% expressed pro-Kerry reasons. My collaborator likes to say that the events were anti-Bush and not pro-Kerry. Very true. We wouldn’t expect an outpouring of pro-Kerry sentiment during a rally for housing rights. But on the other hand, pro-Kerry was less popular than “personal reasons,” the category we created for reasons involving meeting friends and members of the opposite sex. That’s got to say something about the Senator’s ability to appeal to his base!

What’s the take home message? Yes, the war is an important and crucial issue in the progressive movement, as it is for the rest of America, but respondents were more likely to be motivated by a general ideological disagreement with the administration and by domestic policies. Events such as the anti-GOP rallies are an opportunity to exercise free speech, express political values and lobby for domestic policy agendas. Once again, we return to Tip O’Neil’s adage: “all politics is local.”


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