Protest at the center of American politics

Heaney, M. T. (2020) Protest at the center of American politics. Journal of International Affairs, 73(2), pp. 195-208.

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Recognizing the increasing ubiquity of protest in the United States, this article considers why protest has become so central to American politics. It argues that three factors contribute substantially to this situation: institutional illegitimacy, political polarization, and decentralization of communications media. Institutional illegitimacy means that Americans are less likely to trust the prevailing system of government, such as selecting the president through the Electoral College, making them more likely to believe that protest is necessary to have their voices heard. Political polarization coincides with having elected officials on the extremes of the political spectrum, rather than toward the moderate center. Citizens are thus more likely to be dissatisfied with elected officials and to turn out to protest them. Decentralization of communications media, especially social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), allows activists to communicate with one another more readily and, therefore, to organize protests quickly and with few financial resources. These conditions are unlikely to change in the near future outside of a major partisan realignment. Recent protests organized by Black Lives Matter and related groups, in response to the deaths of George Floyd and many other African Americans, illustrate the contemporary nature of activism, social movements, and protest in the United States.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Heaney, Dr Michael
Authors: Heaney, M. T.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Journal Name:Journal of International Affairs
Publisher:Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
First Published:First published in Journal of International Affairs 73(2):195-208
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the publisher

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