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The Paradox of Confrontation: Experimental Evidence on the Audience Effects of Protest

Schwartz, Cassilde (2016) The Paradox of Confrontation: Experimental Evidence on the Audience Effects of Protest. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Do protests increase or decrease political engagement among the general public? Despite the fact that social movements so often aspire to persuade and engage civil society, scholars have largely neglected these consequences of protest activity. I argue that protest is a double-edged sword. People may become enthusiastic and engaged when they hear of protests through the news, but they disengage when faced with an actual protest. This suggestion challenges the vast majority of social movement literature, which is highly aware of the protesters’ need to occupy and interrupt public life in order to capture an audience, but widely assumes that the public does not mind the interruption. This dissertation considers the possibility that the public begrudges its role as a captive audience and focuses more on the inconvenience of the event than the message. I approach this research question through a combination of two experimental designs and observational data. First, I embed a vignette experiment into a baseline phone survey in Mexico City. This experiment treats individuals with crafted news stories about protests that have randomized characteristics. The second experiment tests a different type of protest exposure, i.e., real confrontation. In this experiment, all respondents from the baseline were invited to take part in face-to-face interviews at designated times and places. Respondents in the treatment groups are interviewed during one of two protests, while respondents in the control group were interviewed on a day with no protests. All of the treatments in the vignette and field experiments take advantage of real protests that arose in opposition to the apparent killing of 43 student teachers from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in southern Mexico. Then, using new techniques to isolate and test competing causal mechanisms, I examine the specific mediators – emotions, conflict aversion, and political efficacy - that might link protests to political engagement. To complement the experimental results, I test the external validity of my findings with municipal-level data in Brazil, a country that shares similar patterns of protest activity with Mexico but differs in its protest geography.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Schwartz, Cassildecls78@pitt.eduCLS780000-0001-9287-0895
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAmes, Barrybarrya@pitt.eduBARRYA
Committee MemberFinkel, Steven E.finkel@pitt.eduFINKEL
Committee MemberHurwitz, Jonhurwitz@pitt.eduHURWITZ
Committee MemberLawson,
Date: 15 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 17 December 2015
Approval Date: 15 June 2016
Submission Date: 12 May 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 247
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Latin American Politics; Mexico; Protest; Social Movements; Political Participation; Field Experiment
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2016 16:32
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:33


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