Corporate Law

Commentary: Do radical protests turn the public away from a cause?


I’ve conducted several experiments to answer such questions, often in collaboration with students at the University of Bristol. To influence participants’ views of protesters we made use of a well-known framing effect whereby (even subtle) differences in how protests are reported have a pronounced impact, often serving to delegitimise the protest.

For example, the Daily Mail article reporting the Van Gogh protest referred to it as a “stunt” which is part of a “campaign of chaos” by “rebellious eco-zealots”. The article does not mention the protesters’ demand.

Our experiments took advantage of this framing effect to test the relationship between attitudes to the protesters themselves and to their cause. If the public’s support for a cause depends on how they feel about the protesters, then a negative framing – which leads to less positive attitudes toward protesters – should result in lower levels of support for the demands.

But that’s not what we found. In fact, experimental manipulations that reduced support for the protesters had no impact on support for the demands of those protesters.

We’ve replicated this finding across a range of different types of nonviolent protest, including protests about racial justice, abortion rights and climate change, and across British, American and Polish participants. When members of the public say, “I agree with your cause, I just don’t like your methods,” we should take them at their word.

Decreasing the extent to which the public identifies with you may not be helpful for building a mass movement. But high publicity actions may actually be a very effective way to increase recruitment, given relatively few people ever become activists.

The existence of a radical flank also seems to increase support for more moderate factions of a social movement, by making these factions appear less radical.

Source By https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/protests-tomato-soup-van-gogh-sunflowers-just-stop-oil-climate-change-3021906