A New Picture of Protest

Kraig Beyerlein, Peter Barwis, Cole Carnesecca & Bryant Crubaugh

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Beyerlein, K. , Barwis, P. , Carnesecca, C. & Crubaugh, B. (1). A New Picture of Protest. Sociological Methods & Research, 47(3), 384–429. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0049124116661574

collective action , contentious politics , hypernetwork sampling , Protest events , social movements

The National Study of Protest Events (NSPE) employed hypernetwork sampling to generate the first-ever nationally representative sample of protest events. Nearly complete information about various event characteristics was collected from participants in 1,037 unique protests across the United States in 2010 to 2011. The first part of this article reviews extant methodologies in protest-event research and discusses how the NSPE overcomes their recognized limitations. Next, we detail how the NSPE was conducted and present descriptive statistics for a number of important event characteristics. The hypernetwork sample is then compared to newspaper reports of protests. As expected, we find many differences in the types of events these sources capture. At the same time, the overall number and magnitude of the differences are likely to be surprising. By contrast, little variation is observed in how protesters and journalists described features of the same events. NSPE data have many potential applications in the field of contentious politics and social movements, and several possibilities for future research are outlined.

Main finding
The authors focused on characteristics of protests such as size, demographics, location, organizational sponsors, causes, speakers, targets, law enforcement officers, and counterdemonstrators. The average number of protestors at events was 61 people, while the median event only had 15 protestors. Forty-seven percent of protests took place on sidewalks. Other locations studied included the front of buildings, parks, streets, building interiors, campuses, and designated free speech areas. This study revealed the average size of U.S. protests from 2010–2011, their geographic distribution, the extent to which radical goals targeting the government were featured, and the most common types of organization sponsors and speakers. Significant differences were found between the reports of this study and what is represented in major newspapers such as the New York Times, which most protest-event studies draw from, including a bias in newspaper data towards larger protests and protests concerning elections, religions, or race.

Description of method used in the article
Information was collected from participants of 1,037 protests across the United States from 2010 to 2011. The authors surveyed a random sample of protestors about the events to create a nationally representative protest sample. Comparative analyses using the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the New York Times were conducted, with 978 articles identified and coded.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Content analysis Survey
Physical types
Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations