Protest, Policing, and Perception

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigators:

Christian Davenport

University of Michigan

Email: christiandavenport@mac.com

Homepage: http://christiandavenport.com/Christian_Davenport/Welcome.html

Rose McDermott

Brown University

Email: Rose_McDermott@brown.edu

Homepage: http://research.brown.edu/research/profile.php?id=1220547127


Sample size: 400

Field period: 10/05/2010-04/04/2011

Abstract

We argue here that exactly who engages in contentious activity matters a great deal in forming subsequent public opinion about such behavior, and that, in the particular case of the United States, the race of the people who are protesting and policing independently influences spectators in decisive ways regardless of the content of the conflict. In addition, the interactions of the protesters’ as well as the polices’ race should provide additional insight into the complex racial dynamics underlying observers’ feelings about legitimacy and responsibility in conflict situations. Such factors will not only influence opinions about the protesters and police but they may also influence opinions regarding such factors as the normative value, importance and meaning of the particular contested issue, the legitimacy of dissent, the legitimacy of social-political control, and its efficacy, as well as trust in government more broadly conceived.
Using a nationally representative sample of (400) American citizens in 2011 stratified by race, we conducted an embedded experiment to examine how the race of the police and the race of protesters affects attitudes toward the legitimacy of protest. We find that racial asymmetries between the police and the protestors result in greater blame being attributed to the police. Even black respondents are more likely to blame black police when the protesters are white. However, white observers are more likely to blame protesters than black observers overall.

Hypotheses

The race of police, protesters and observers will influence beliefs about responsibility.

Beliefs about responsibility coupled with race, in turn, influence opinions about (il)legitimacy of the actions.

Individuals see those who are racially similar as less to blame, and those who are racially different more to blame, for any episodes of escalating violence.

Experimental Manipulations

Embedded experimental design where the same scenario about the emergence of a violent protest varies the race of protests and police.

Outcomes

Who is judged as being responsible for the protest escalating

The perceived legitimacy of the cause instigating the protest.

Summary of Results

Racial asymmetries between the police and the protestors result in greater blame being attributed to police.

Even African American respondents are more likely to blame black police when the protesters are white.

White observers are more likely to blame those engaged in dissident than African American observers.