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Why Do People Engage in Unlawful Political Protest? Examining the Role of Authoritarianism in Illegal Protest Behavior


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Prior research on individual-level drivers of protest has primarily focused on legal protest. However, less is known about what makes people engage in unlawful protest activities. Building upon previous literature on the collective action dilemma, socialization on violent and high-risk social movements, and political psychology, we expect that illegal protest frequency varies at different levels of authoritarianism. We explore the relationship between authoritarian values and illegal protest by analyzing a two-wave panel survey data gathered in the US. The results of cross-sectional, lagged, and autoregressive ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models show that when controlling for legal protest and other relevant variables in protest behavior, authoritarianism predicts illegal protest following an inverted U-shaped relationship. In other words, average levels of authoritarianism predict more frequent engagement in illegal protest, while this frequency decreases as approaching the poles of the authoritarianism scale.
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American Politics Research
Why Do People Engage in Unlawful Political Protest?
Examining the Role of Authoritarianism in Illegal Protest Behavior
Isabel Inguanzo¹
Araceli Mateos¹
Homero Gil de Zúñiga123
¹ Democracy Research Unit
Political Science
College of Law & Public Administration
University of Salamanca
² Media Effects Research Lab
Film Production & Media Studies Department
Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications
Pennsylvania State University
Facultad de Comunicación y Letras
Universidad Diego Portales
Prior research on individual-level drivers of protest has primarily focused on legal protest.
However, less is known about what makes people engage in unlawful protest activities.
Building upon previous literature on the collective action dilemma, socialization on violent
and high-risk social movements, and political psychology, we expect that illegal protest
frequency varies at different levels of authoritarianism. We explore the relationship between
authoritarian values and illegal protest by analyzing a 2 wave panel survey data gathered in
the US. The results of cross-sectional, lagged, and autoregressive Ordinary Least Squares
(OLS) regression models show that when controlling for legal protest and other relevant
variables in protest behavior, authoritarianism predicts illegal protest following an inverted u-
shaped relationship. In other words, average levels of authoritarianism predict more frequent
engagement in illegal protest, while this frequency decreases as approaching the poles of the
authoritarianism scale.
Keywords: Illegal protest; authoritarianism; unconventional participation; political values;
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Why Do People Engage in Unlawful Political Protest?
Examining the Role of Authoritarianism in Illegal Protest Behavior
On January 6th, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters from different parts of the
country attended a rally in Washington DC where he asked them to march towards the US
Capitol. While most Trump protestors did just that, some of them went beyond the Capitol
doors entering the building violently, engaging in illegal protest activities. During the last few
years, US society has witnessed increasing numbers of unauthorized protests and how some
initially legal protests turned violent, such as Charlottesville clashes between protesters in
2017 or the 2020 attack on the Minneapolis 3rd precinct in the context of a wider Black Lives
Matter peaceful protest. However, individuals who engage in unlawful behavior seem to be
the exception while politicians, the media, and scholars wonder who these people are and
what motivates them to engage in illicit political activities. For example, during the second
impeachment trial in 2021, House managers tried to answer this question by showing
evidence supporting the idea that most of the illegal protestors of the Capitol Riot had
previously engaged in violent and unlawful acts; there are theoretical reasons to believe that
this pattern of protest behavior also holds true for other political groups (Della Porta, 2018).
This leads us to the following question: which antecedents predict illegal protest engagement
over time?
To answer this question, we rely on three different strains of research: the collective
action dilemma, socialization on violent and high-risk social movements, and political
psychology. We argue that research on individual predictors of illegal protest could benefit
from closely connecting these sets of literature since it helps understanding how in
specifically high-risk protests authoritarianism can influence the rational calculus behind the
collective action dilemma.
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In doing so, we argue that illegal protest frequency varies at different levels of
authoritarianism. More specifically, we contend that authoritarianism predicts illegal protest
participation in a pattern that has not been explored so far: an inverted U-shape relation.
Perceived threats to social order and established authorities can more often activate moderate
or mildly authoritarian people to carry out unlawful or undemocratic acts to defend the social
statu quo (Barker, Nalder, & Newham, 2021; Glas & Taylor, 2018; Hetherington & Suhay,
2011; Hetherington & Weiler, 2009). Individuals with extremely low levels of
authoritarianism, while more likely to participate in legal protests, usually reject violence and
actions that are potentially harmful to other human beings (Welzel & Deutsch, 2012) and
have fewer incentives to engage in illegal protests. On the opposite pole, individuals with
extremely high authoritarian values are particularly submissive to authority (Duckitt,
Bizumic, Krauss, & Heled, 2010), and while many of them might support unlawful protest
(Gutting, 2020), they will very rarely engage in illegal acts of social disruption themselves,
mostly remaining behind the scenes (Passini, 2017).
We explore the causal relationship between authoritarian values and illegal protest
participation relying on two waves of panel survey data from the US. Illegal protest relates to
any form of political protest that breaks the law. Following Finkel et al. (1989) it includes
unauthorized forms of unconventional participation such as unauthorized demonstrations or
strikes; acts of civil disobedience (i.e., sittings, roadblocks); seizing of public or private
buildings; confronting with different actors, either the police or opposed civil groups; and any
act of political violence against either people or private or public property. We performed
various types of OLS regression (cross-sectional, lagged and autoregressive) to test the
robustness of this relationship. We also carry out additional robustness checks, bootstrapping
the results with 3000 simulations. Throughout the three models, we found that individuals
with average levels of authoritarianism are the ones who engage in illegal protest most
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frequently. Our findings shed light on the unsolved mystery of mixed results between
authoritarianism and illegal protest. Further implications for the field are later discussed.
Literature Review
Our contribution to the literature on illegal protest is two-fold. First, we show how
any analysis of the antecedents of illegal protest could benefit from including prior
engagement in legal and illegal protests. Second, we contend that authoritarianism is related
to illegal protest following an inverted U-shape curvilinear pattern. To do so, we rely on three
strains of research: 1) collective action dilemma, 2) protest socialization, and 3) political
psychology. These theories acknowledge that there are positive and negative incentives
associated with high-risk protest participation. However, some of the negative incentives
could be overcome in the presence of certain individual resources and motivations, fostered
by prior experiences of protest, and certain political values.
The Collective Action Dilemma
Protest is a way of influencing political outcomes that entails more costs for
participants than other forms of political participation. As a result, it is acknowledged as a
relatively infrequent political behavior. Most citizens in post-industrialized societies usually
prefer to engage in more institutionalized forms of participation, such as voting, while only
sporadically joining protest activities. This uneven political involvement is well explained by
the collective action dilemma (Olson, 2009). Before engaging in any form of political
participation, individuals will perform a cost-benefit calculation in relation to the desired
political outcomes. Coherently, the average citizen is more likely to vote than to legally
protest and to protest through lawful means rather than through unlawful means; this is
because at every stage, the potential costs and risks of participating are higher, while the
outcomes of engaging in such activity are more uncertain (Finkel et al., 1989).
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However, the perceived risks and chances of success of protest are not identical across
people. There are specific sociodemographic characteristics and motivations that can alter
this assessment, thus lowering the barriers to protest. For instance, research has shown that
young people who usually have a higher risk tolerance are more likely to protest both legally
(Renström, Aspernäs, & Bäck, 2020) and illegally (Gavray, Fournier, & Born, 2012). The
same holds true for men as opposed to women, since the latter are more risk averted (Coffé &
Bolzendahl, 2010) and have to face more structural barriers with regard to political
engagement (Schussman & Soule, 2005). In addition, perceived protesting costs decline with
educational attainment (Dalton, Van Sickle, & Weldon, 2010) and income (Leighley &
Nagler, 2013).
An additional factor lowering the barriers of protest emerged with the advent of the
internet, social media and digital technologies. Indeed, social media users, who engage in
different online political discussions are more likely to engage in protests (Valenzuela,
Correa, & Gil de Zúñiga, 2018). Using these platforms lower the costs of recruitment and
increase citizens’ social and political resources, including information, contacts, etc. (Pickard,
2019). Additionally, frequent internet users are more likely to be exposed to information that
challenges the political status quo, and as a result, unconventional forms of protest -both legal
and illegal- are more pervasive among high internet users (Gainous, Wagner, & Abbott,
2015), thus affecting the perceived benefits of collective action concerning their desired
Besides all these different resources at hand, certain individuals are more willing to
overcome the costs of unconventional participation due to their political motivations, which
can refer to instrumentality, ideology, and identity (B. Klandermans, 2004; P. G.
Klandermans, 2014). Regarding instrumentality, previous research has pointed out that
people with higher levels of political interest and political efficacy are more likely to protest
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(Finkel et al., 1989). Regarding ideology, others have found that in the US, individuals who
engage in unconventional high-risk protests tend to be more ideologically extreme on the left-
right scale (DiGrazia, 2014). Yet, in terms of identity, research related to social identification
theory has tracked down compelling evidence suggesting that group identity, social capital,
and social networks are key predictors of protest (van Stekelenburg & Klandermans, 2013).
These group identity motivations seem to be of particular relevance for violent social
movements and clandestine groups since group belonging and cohesion is one important
outcome -if not the most- of protest itself (Della Porta, 2013). All in all, these political
antecedents can increase their perceived chances of success, alter the priority of outcomes, or
simply convince certain citizens that the end justifies some disruptive means.
Still, the direction of the relationship between these political motivations and political
participation is contested. For example, Quintelier & Van Deth (2014) have found that while
political interest, efficacy, confidence, and norms of citizenship might play a role in fostering
political participation, the inverse relationship is much stronger, and in fact, political
participation strengthens all these attitudes. Similarly, others have suggested that by
reinforcing certain group identities, protest itself increases ideological polarization more than
the other way around (P. G. Klandermans, 2014). Furthermore, when related to illegal
protests, whether intended or not, group cohesion is a common consequence of political
violence and confrontation with state authorities (Della Porta, 2018). Therefore, there is a dire
need to better explore the causal relationships between motivations and political protest.
The present longitudinal study introduces a temporal sequence and explores a causal
direction between attitudes and behaviors. Furthermore, it allows us to include a key
predictor of illegal protest that has usually been overlooked. This predictor is prior protest
activity. Thus, the second wave of data enables us to control for previous legal and illegal
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protest engagement. The following section explains the theoretical reasons that endorse
including prior protest as a predictor of illegal protest.
The Incremental Nature of Protest
As it happens with most political activities and behaviors, prior protest experiences
shape future ones. According to Verhulst & Walgrave, protest participation ‘can be
considered as a habit, as a practice one should be socialized into’ (2009, p. 458). Indeed, it is
well known that high-risk activism fosters ‘activists careers’, by which first-time protestors
stay connected with politicized organizations and networks, thus enhancing further
mobilization in the future (Mcadam, 1989). Similarly, with the advent of new social
movements that tap into a significant number of cross-cutting issues, most activists belong to
more than one advocacy network (Diani, 2000). As a result, people who are highly mobilized
for one issue, do also tend to be mobilized for others. Then, protesters engaged in multi-issue
activism contribute to the diffusion of new frames, tactics, and repertoires across different
social movements (Andersen & Jennings, 2010). Protest participation is, therefore, a
cumulative process.
Likewise, illegal protest does not emerge in a vacuum. Most illegal protestors have
prior experience in more conventional forms of protest. Indeed, some social movements
engage in processes of adaptation and innovation of their collective action repertoires. In this
regard, illegal protest is the result of a relational process of escalation from disruptive but
peaceful forms of protest to increasingly violent repertoires of collective action (Della Porta,
2018; Tilly, 1978). The most violent ones emerge as the result of continuous interactions
between increasingly radical social movements and state authorities or opposed groups, thus
leading to spirals of action and reaction (Bosi & Della Porta, 2012; Della Porta, 1995).
Moreover, in some cases, violence increases along the cycle of protest. At the begging, it is
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more sporadic and defensive but later becomes ritualized and normalized among some actors
(Della Porta & Tarrow, 1986).
While this research suggests that protest, and specifically illegal protest, is an
incremental and cumulative political behavior, most of the literature that surveys individual
predictors of illegal protest fails to control for prior protest participation. Among the very
scarce studies that aim at understanding the individual antecedents of specifically illegal
protest, most works just run different cross-sectional regressions for legal and illegal protest
and compare the results, as if participants in those groups were different sets of people (see
for example Dahl & Stattin, 2014; and Finkel et al., 1989). However, a study that surveyed
legal and illegal protest in 17 Western democracies found that on average, 87.5% of illegal
protestors had also engaged in legal protest, and for the US that percentage was 100% (Roller
& Weßels, 1996). Even in that study, the authors just compared both groups when it came to
finding the predictors of protest.
One worth-mentioning exception to this trend in the literature is Gavray and
colleagues (2012), who include conventional political and civil participation as an antecedent
of illegal repertoires of collective action among the youth. In their study, conventional
participation was positively and significantly associated with engagement in illegal political
activities. Another relevant exception is Benson & Rochon (2004), who make dyadic
comparisons of different forms of protest controlling for prior behavior, but in their case, they
do not include the most intense forms of illegal protest, such as getting involved in political
violence and confrontations with police, or other groups. It is, therefore, crucial to realize that
the risk of not including prior protest (legal and illegal) as an antecedent of illegal protest at a
particular point in time is that findings might be prone to showcase spurious relationships
since what these models would actually predict is protest in general, but not specifically
illegal protest. As a result, our first hypothesis reads:
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H1a: Legal protest is positively associated with illegal protest over time
H1b: Prior involvement in illegal protest (Wave 1) increases illegal protest in the
future (Wave 2)
As stated above, legal and illegal protest are related activities, but they are
substantially different. What defines a political repertoire as illegal is that it violates existing
laws and existing social norms and therefore, it might be motivated by different drivers than
those of legal and legitimate protest (van Stekelenburg & Klandermans, 2013). It is then
unsurprising that the Roller & Weßels (1996) study found that among the 17 Western
democracies, on average, 87.5% of all protestors engaged in legal protest only. For the
United States, this percentage was 93.2%.
Therefore, not every legal protestor will make the step towards illegal protest. In fact,
most of them will never make it only a few. Illegal protest relates to any form of political
protest that breaks the law. It, therefore, includes unauthorized forms of unconventional
participation; acts of civil disobedience; seizing of public or private buildings; participating in
confrontations with different the police or other civil groups; and other acts of political
violence against private or public property or against people (Finkel et al., 1989). What
defines these types of acts is that they defy established authority (Barker et al., 2021) and
violate existing laws and existing social norms (Wright & Citrin, 2011). Hence, to uncover
who is more likely to be engaged in spiral processes of illegal protest and violence escalation,
we suggest focusing on the political values that are specifically related to law, order, and
authority, which are the principles related to the core definition of illegal protest itself.
Political psychology and, more specifically, the literature on political values- has
extensively considered how individuals perceive authority and its effects on political
behavior. According to this scholarship, authoritarianism praises obedience, social order, and
deference to authorities perceived as legitimate (Glas & Taylor, 2018). The key concept here
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is legitimacy since some authoritarians defending cultural and social order might well justify
disruptive or even undemocratic means (Barker et al., 2021). In an era of multi-issue activism
(Andersen & Jennings, 2010), those issues framed as cultural threats to national or society
unity (Wright & Citrin, 2011) might activate some authoritarian people into illegal protest
networks. The following section will untangle the connection between authoritarianism, and
unlawful and undemocratic means.
Authoritarianism and Illegal Protest Repertoires
The literature on political values has for a long time differentiated between people
who value individual autonomy holding emancipative values- and those who value order,
obedience, and authority thus holding authoritarian values (Inglehart & Flanagan, 1987;
Welzel, Inglehart, & Klingemann, 2003). According to this literature, the dimension of
‘emancipative versus authoritarian values’ is orthogonal to traditional left-right conceptions
of ideology; individuals from both poles of the emancipative-authoritarian values dimension
can be found in both democratic and autocratic regimes (Kirsch & Welzel, 2019). However,
throughout all these different settings, previous research has found a consistent relationship
between emancipative values and legal forms of protest (Benson & Rochon, 2004; Grasso &
Giugni, 2016; Welzel & Deutsch, 2012; Zavadskaya & Welzel, 2015). For instance, Welzel
& Deutsch contend that ‘emancipative values encourage only non-violent protest because
these values involve humanitarian ideals that reject violence against people’ (2012, p. 407
emphasis in the original). Similarly, activists of new emancipative social movements enhance
deliberation, tolerance, and consensus as the best possible ways of reaching collective
decisions in the context of protesting (Della Porta, 2005).
As a result, those individuals with extremely low levels of authoritarianism (or
extremely high levels of emancipative values) would more frequently opt for non-violent and
legal repertoires of protest. Hence, we should see that individuals with extremely low levels
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of authoritarianism are very active in peaceful and legal protest activities and still engage less
frequently in illegal protest. However, what happens with illegal and violent repertoires when
we move on the ladder of authoritarianism is less clear.
Individuals with a higher level of authoritarianism usually prefer the existence of
leaders who ‘get things done,’ as opposed to following the regular democratic or deliberative
channels. In this respect, authoritarian values might contribute to a certain degree to increase
the perception of personal influence and chances of group success when performing unlawful
acts, as opposed to established democratic procedures, which are perceived as ineffective. For
example, some studies have found that some people resort to disruptive forms of participation
-such as political violence- when regular channels seem inefficacious (Dyrstad & Hillesund,
2020; Gavray et al., 2012). Hence, we contend that these mildly authoritarian people would
be more likely to engage in non-established unlawful acts as a more efficacious way of
influencing politics and circumventing the -otherwise slow, parsimonious, and cacophonous-
democratic process. However, this positive association between authoritarianism and
participation in illegal protest might hold up just to a certain tipping point since strong
authoritarians also deplore disorder (Weiner & Federico, 2017).
Overall, the very scarce literature on the opposite authoritarian pole has pointed at
mixed results. On the one hand, in their seminal work on the authoritarian personality,
Adorno et al. (2019) found that authoritarian attitudes correlated with authoritarian
aggression, thus leading us to expect that authoritarian values are correlated with political
violence and, therefore, with illegal protest. On the other hand, it has also been found that
extremely authoritarian individuals (as opposed to those with emancipative values) are less
likely to be interested in national or international politics or to participate in action-oriented
political groups (Flanagan & Lee, 2003). Finally, other studies have found that while holding
emancipative values is positively related to participation in legal protest, the relationship
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seems to gradually fade away regarding illegal protest (Opp, 1990), even when controlling
for past political behavior (Benson & Rochon, 2004). To sum up, all these studies focused on
a linear relationship between authoritarianism and extreme forms of participation, with a
limited set of political protest controls, and in general, have offered mixed results.
However, more recent and nuanced works have shed some additional light on the
complex relationship between authoritarianism and protest. A recent experimental study on
the support of contentious protest has shown that individuals with authoritarian values still
support mobilization even if a disruptive protest turns violent, however, they stop supporting
it when this protest is directed against authorities (Gutting, 2020). Nonetheless, Gutting’s
research refers to the authoritarian and non-authoritarian audiences of protests, but not to
actual protestors. This distinction might be critical since research on political psychology has
shown that submission to authority does not explain open violence but rather support for it
(Passini, 2017). According to his work, authoritarian submission explains latent aggression
by which people who praise obedience prefer to stay in the backdrop and are not directly
involved in violence against groups that threaten society cohesion, although they support
those who do it.
Moreover, previous research has shown how distinguishing between different levels
of authoritarianism can provide more nuanced information about who exactly changes their
preferences on political actions in the face of a social threat (Hetherington & Suhay, 2011;
Hetherington & Weiler, 2009). These authors found that in such a circumstance, ordinary
people are very much likely to endorse undemocratic preferences, policies, or political
activities. Therefore, we argue that individuals with extremely high levels of authoritarianism
will engage relatively less frequently in illegal protests, but instead will favor harsh and
coercive social control (Duckitt et al., 2010) or stay in the background and let others do the
dirty job (Passini, 2017).
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In a nutshell, we cannot expect a clear linear relationship between authoritarianism
and engagement in illegal activities. As noted earlier, there is evidence for authoritarianism
fostering engagement in unlawful protest and preventing this type of participation. The
literature suggests that, on the one hand, individuals with extremely low levels of
authoritarianism will avoid unlawful and violent means of protest that would potentially harm
other people. On the other hand, individuals with extremely high levels of authoritarianism
will equally avoid illegal protests because they deplore social disorder and attacks on
However, the scholarship is mostly silent on whether individuals with average levels
of authoritarianism will be involved in such acts. These theoretical underpinnings lend
support to ask: what if this relationship is, in fact, curvilineal? To the authors knowledge,
this has not been tested by the literature so far. So, we build upon all this previous research to
uncover whether authoritarianism 1) is related to illegal protest once we control for legal
protest involvement and 2) whether this relationship between authoritarianism and
participation in illegal protest follows a curvilinear pattern. As a result, we expect that
H2: Individuals with average levels of authoritarianism will participate in illegal protest
more frequently than those with extremely low (H2a) or extremely high levels (H2b) of
To explore which political antecedents predict illegal protest engagement, we used
panel survey data from a larger research project on political attitudinal and behavioral
outcomes in the United States. The survey was fielded at University of Vienna and drew on a
national online panel sample which seeks to be representative of the US population. The
panel of subjects was contracted to IPSOS Austria, and the fieldwork was conducted via
Qualtrics through the PI’s Research Unit in June 2019, with 1,338 respondents
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(COOP2=45.5%), of whom 511 repeated in the second wave, in October 2019
(COOP2=40.9%). The study used an opt-in panel with quotas based on the US census (i.e.,
age, education, gender, race, and income). Self-administered questionnaires such as online
surveys are proven to be particularly efficacious for research on topics that might suffer from
social desirability bias, like illegal behavior. (Krumpal, 2013). Furthermore, the two-wave
data collection strategy ensures a more accurate identification of the causal relationships
between our variables of interest, connecting them in a causal order at two different points in
time. This longitudinal strategy enabled us to control for previous levels of protest while
exploring a causal, temporal sequence between potential political antecedents, legal protest
activities, and illegal protest. The questionnaire included items that allow measuring the key
variables and controls.
Dependent variable. Our dependent variable is Frequency of illegal protest. We
chose to measure frequency of protest because, according to Grasso & Giugni (2019), it is
important to understand what distinguishes the occasional protester from the habitual
protester. In order to do so we follow the measure used by Gil de Zúñiga and Goyanes (2021)
which is based in turn on Finkel et al (1989). Gil de Zúñiga and Goyanes (2021) have proved
through a Confirmatory Factor Analysis that legal and illegal protest were empirically
different constructs. For the latter, they added up four indicators in an index summarizing
how frequently citizens engaged in four different forms of illegal protest. The items were:
Participating in political rallies or protest that break the law.’, Seizing buildings such as
factories, government buildings, university offices, etc.’, Participating in confrontation with
police or other governmental authorities.’, Being part of political activities that may result in
public or private property damage (e.g., breaking windows, vehicles, street signs, etc.) (1:
never, 10: all the time). The items were strongly correlated, which supported the creation of
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an index. Table 1 shows the descriptive and reliability measures for illegal protest and the rest
of the constructs. Since illegal protest was clearly skewed towards ‘never participated in
illegal protest’, we standardized the index of illegal protest before including it in the
regression. Time specifications for protest related items in wave 1 and wave 2 can be found
on section A of the Supplemental Material.
Table 1 Reliability Analysis Measures for all Constructs from Wave 1 and Wave 2.
Wave 1
Wave 2
s α
Illegal Protest
Legal Protest
Cable News
Social Media News
Other types of News
Political Efficacy*
Note: (*) Since this is a 2-item construct in this case we use Spearman-Brown instead of Cronbach alphas.
Variables of Interest
Frequency of legal protest. Our main goal was to find out which antecedents
predicted frequent engagement in illegal activities. To the extent that theory suggests that
protest is an incremental process, our first variable of interest was participation in legal
protest. To measure legal protest, the survey asked respondents how frequently they
participated in ‘permitted demonstrations and political rallies’, peaceful protests and legal
protests for political reasons. The three items were averaged, and the index was checked for
reliability (1: never to 10: All the time). Like illegal protest, legal protest was skewed towards
1. As a result, the index was also standardized.
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Polarized position on authoritarianism. To measure authoritarianism, we rely on a
short version of Altemeyer (1998)’s scale that has also been used and validated across diverse
cultural contexts in more recent studies (see Vargas-Salfate, Liu, & Gil de Zúñiga, 2020).
Accordingly, we first constructed an additive index summarizing respondents´ agreement
with the following items: Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues
children should learn.’, ‘Our country needs a powerful leader, in order to destroy the radical
and immoral elements in society today.’, In these troubled times, laws have to be enforced
without mercy, especially when dealing with the agitators and revolutionaries who are
‘stirring things up. (1: strongly disagree; 10: strongly agree).
For the creation of the index, the three items were averaged. Since we are interested in
the distinction between people with average levels of authoritarianism and people on the
extremes of the authoritarianism scale, we constructed a new variable by using the absolute
values of the centered index on authoritarianism. Therefore, individuals with average levels
of authoritarianism get a 0 on the scale, with values increasing as individuals approach the
authoritarian/emancipative poles.
Control variables.
Media news. With an exhaustive number of items, we controlled for three different
types of media use. Cable news: This construct averages responses indicating how often (1:
never; 10: all the time) they get the news from a) MSNBC, b) CNN, and c) Fox news. Social
media news: Respondents were asked to indicate how often (1: never to 10: All the time) in
the past month they did get news from thirteen different sources.
Items were also averaged in
Local news on social media, National news on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn,
WhatsApp, Use WhatsApp to stay informed about current events and public affairs, Use WhatsApp to get
additional information about what's going on in politics and public affairs, Instagram
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an index. Finally, other media news averaged responses to items indicating how often (1:
never to 10: All the time) in the past month they did get news from different media sources.
Political attitudes. We used three variables tapping into the three motivations that
have been previously identified to influence the collective action dilemma calculus between
risks and outcomes (B. Klandermans, 2004): ideological extremism (ideology), political
efficacy (instrumentality), and collective rationality (identity). Ideological extremism was
measured in two steps. First, we constructed a variable of ideology averaging responses to 3
questions: Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a
Democrat, an Independent, or something else? Please rate yourself on a scale where 1: Strong
Democrat, 6: Independent, and 11: Strong Republican’; ‘On political issues, where would
you place yourself on a scale of 1-11, where 11 is strong conservative and 1 is strong
liberal?’; ‘On economic issues, where would you place yourself on a scale of 1-11, where 11
is strong conservative and 1 is strong liberal’. Later, we constructed ideological extremism by
using the absolute values of the centered index on ideology. External Political efficacy was
measured following Gil de Zúñiga et al (2017) through the aggregation of two reversed items
that measure how much respondents agree: ‘People like me don’t have any say in what the
government does’, ‘No matter whom I vote for, it won’t make a difference’.. Finally,
Collective rationality. This variable was an index based on Finkel et al. (1989), who
advocated for bringing together indicators of group unity and civic duty. The survey asked
how much respondents agreed (1: Strongly disagree, and 10: Strongly agree) with the four
statements: For political groups to have a reasonable chance of success in their actions,
everyone must contribute a small part.’, Every individual member is necessary for the
success of a political group, no matter how large it is.’, If a citizen is discontented with the
Network TV news, Local television news, Television, National newspapers, Local newspapers, Printed, Online
news sites, Citizen journalism sites, Local news online sites, Radio news, Radio.
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policies of the government, he/she has a duty to do something about it.’, If the government
fails with a particular policy, it is a citizen’s responsibility to take action’. A factor analysis
showing these items belong to three different variables is available in Section B of the Online
Demographic variables. We also controlled for: age, gender (female as reference),
race (white as reference), education and income.
Analytical Strategy and robustness checks
To evaluate the effect of authoritarian values and the control variables on illegal
protest, we used three ordinary least squares (OLS) models: cross sectional, lagged and
autoregressive. The cross sectional used only Wave 1 data; the lagged model predicted the
frequency of illegal protest on Wave 2 with the predictors on Wave 1. Finally, the
autoregressive model did the same as the lagged model but incorporating prior levels of
illegal protest in Wave1 as a predictor. Since the survival rate in the second wave was 40%,
and legal and illegal protest did not follow a normal distribution, we performed bootstrapping
analyses with 3000 replicates for every model to confirm the robustness of the relationships,
thus well beyond the agreed standards of bootstrapping (Efron & Tibshirani, 1994; Wilcox,
2010). Replication materials are available upon request.
Preliminary tests hint that only legal protestors are different from those who also
engage in illegal protest in their level of authoritarianism. Through an ANOVA analysis, we
can see how only legal protestors are significantly less authoritarian than both illegal
protestors and non-protestors (Bonferroni test F(2)=11.4, p < .001). However, according to
the literature, we expect a more specific pattern: an inverted U-shaped relationship between
The distribution for the sociodemographic controls can be found in online appendix section A
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authoritarianism and participation in illegal protests. Figure 1 displays the first approach to
that relationship. The size of the bubbles represents the share of individuals who have
illegally protested related to all individuals within that authoritarian position.
Figure 1 shows how those individuals who hold an intermediate position on
authoritarianism, between 5 and 8, are more likely to have engaged at least once in illegal
protest. Furthermore, it seems there is a positive association between authoritarianism and
illegal protest but only up to a tipping point -around position 7 of authoritarianism- where
illegal protestors seem to withdraw.
Figure 1. Bivariate relationship between authoritarianism and participation in illegal
To the extent that the initial descriptive results seem to fit our theoretical expectations,
we expect this pattern to remain significant once several controls are included in the analyses
and robustness checks are applied through 3000 sample bootstrapping. Table 2 shows the
results for three different regression models (cross-sectional, lagged, and autoregressive).
Our first hypothesis lies in the idea that protest is a cumulative process. Under the first
two models, previous participation in legal protest predicts a great share of the variance of
illegal protest. In the cross-sectional model, participation in legal protest predicts up almost
60% of the variance in illegal protest (β = .604 p-value .001). In the lagged model, it is still
a strong predictor of illegal protest (β = .289; p-value ≤ .001) however, the statistical
0 2 4 6 8 10
# of individuals who have
ever engaged in illegal
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significance totally fades away once participation in illegal protest in Wave 1 is included as a
predictor of illegal protest in Wave 2 (Model 3, β = .025 p-value = .588). These findings offer
nuanced support for H1a and strong support for hypothesis H1b. Prior frequent engagement
in legal protest seems to predict higher participation in illegal protest; however, the causal
effect of legal protest disappears once we introduce prior engagement in illegal protest. These
findings uphold the thesis of the cumulative and incremental nature of protest and reinforce
the need to include different forms of prior protest engagement in any study that aims at
exploring the predictors of specifically illegal protest. Hence, when stricter analyses are
applied in order to find temporal causality between variables (see Models 2 and specifically
Model 3 in Table 2), the influence of prior involvement in legal protest decreases, and only
three antecedents remain consistently significant: prior involvement in illegal protest, higher
social media news use, and average levels of authoritarianism.
In agreement with our second hypothesis, individuals ranking extremely high and
extremely low on authoritarianism participate less frequently in illegal protest compared to
people holding average levels of authoritarianism (β = -.031 p-value ≤ .05 . ; β = -.06 p-value
≤ .05; β = -.048 p-value ≤ .05 for cross-sectional, lagged and auto-regressive respectively).
The negative coefficient on polarized levels of authoritarianism suggests that the likelihood
of an individual frequently engaging in illegal protest is higher for average levels of
authoritarianism but declines when approaching both poles of the authoritarianism scale. This
relationship holds true even when controlling for prior protest participation
. The following
figure represents the estimated values under the different models for various levels of
Theoretically, a plausible effect on illegal protest may be mediated, rather than direct. That is, legal protest
may influence illegal protest through polarized positions on authoritarianism, or conversely, polarized positions
may be indirectly related to illegal protest via legal protest behavior. To shed light on this quandary, a follow up
mediating analysis showed that was not the case (β= -.001, se =.002, 95% CI = [-.005, .003]; and (β= .007,
se=.016, 95% CI = [-.026, .038], respectively).
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Table 2. Cross-sectional, Lagged, and Autoregressive Models of the Effect of Polarized
Position on Authoritarianism on Illegal Protest
Illegal Protest
Model 1
Model 2
Model 3
Block 1: Auto-regressive term
Illegal Protest W1
Δ R² (%)
Block 2: Legal Protest
Legal Protest W1
Δ R² (%)
Block 3: Demographics
Gender (Female)
Race (White)
Δ R² (%)
Block 4: News Use
Cable News
Social Media News
Other Media News
Δ R² (%)
Block 5: Political Attitudes
Ideological extremism (ideology)
Political Efficacy (instrumentality)
Collective Rationality (identity)
Δ R² (%)
Block 6: Polarized positions on Authoritarianism
Polarized position on authoritarianism
Δ R² (%)
TOTAL R² (%)
Note: Sample size = 1082 (Model 1); Sample size=407 (Model 2); Sample size=403 (Model 3).(*) = p < .05;
(**) = p < .01; (***) = p <.001. Cell entries are final-entry standardized Beta (β) coefficients which account for
robust standard errors test based on bootstrapping to 3000 resamples with biased corrected confidence to assess
statistical significance. Standard errors in brackets.
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Figure 2 depicts the curvilinear relationship between authoritarianism and illegal
protest, which becomes clearer in longitudinal analyses (Models 2 and 3) in which we are
able to control for prior protest involvement.
Figure 2. Predicted values under cross-sectional (M1), lagged (M2), and auto-regressive
(M3) models for levels of authoritarianism.
Model 1: Cross-sectional
Model 2: Lagged
Model 3: Auto-regressive
Note: The straight red line shows the predicted values of standardized illegal protest in each model for different
values of authoritarianism. Dotted lines show the confidence intervals at 95% confidence.
Finally, regarding other controls, it is worth mentioning that social media news use
remains statistically significant across all models, indicating that consumers of social media
news are also more likely to engage in this type of political behavior. Consuming other media
news, though, seem to play no role in explaining illegal protest once stricter models are
applied. All in all, these results confirm two distinct patterns in illegal protest. First, the
pattern of incremental nature of protest and second, the curvilinear relationship between
authoritarianism and illegal protest.
While most research has largely analyzed the antecedents of legal protest,
comparatively less work delved into individual predictors of illegal protest. In an age of
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rising authoritarianism and populism (Norris & Inglehart, 2018), these unbalances in the
literature needs to be redressed, even more, because the scant studies existing have often
overlooked legal protest participation as a key predictor of illegal protest. Not controlling for
legal protest engagement might have led to an incomplete estimation or to spurious
conclusions in previous models of illegal protest. This study seeks to address this gap by
testing whether, and if so, how authoritarian values can predict illegal protest once prior
important theoretical variables such as previous frequency of legal and illegal protest
participation, media use, and political attitudes have all been considered.
Our results offer support for including legal protest participation in any analysis of
illegal protest. As a starting point, almost 95 percent of individuals who have ever
participated in illegal protests in our sample have also engaged in legal ones. This would
indicate that illegal protesters seem to be involved in legitimate ways of influencing the
government as well.
Most studies on illegal protest participation delved into the relevance of political
attitudes, such as ideological motivations, political interest, political efficacy, or collective
rationality, that in general lines, helped to overcome the classic collective action dilemma
(DiGrazia, 2014; Finkel et al., 1989; van Stekelenburg & Klandermans, 2013). However, we
have found no support for these theories in our data over time. Our data and models instead
point at a certain instability over time of some attitudinal items and specifically at the
relevance of different levels of authoritarian values in triggering illegal protest.
When different antecedents are explored across a longitudinal analysis, we found that
individuals with extremely low levels of authoritarianism or extremely high levels of
authoritarianism engage less frequently in illegal protest. Moreover, ideological extremism
seems to play no role in illegal protest. These findings combined go against the often
portrayed image pictured on media and academia, depicting illegal protestors as radicals, at
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least when it comes to authoritarian attitudes (Della Porta, 2018). According to our data,
illegal protestors are not significantly more ideologically extreme than other citizens, and in
fact, the most frequent illegal protestor has fairly average levels of authoritarian values.
Authoritarianism is a strong predictor of illegal protest across all different models
tested. This finding is not trivial. Political values matter and should be included in
explanatory models of illegal protest. First and foremost, those who engage in illicit protest
activities are subjects who reported average levels of authoritarian attitudes, excluding both
extremes of the spectrum. Individuals with average levels of authoritarianism are more
frequently involved in illegal protest as compared to individuals with extremely low levels of
authoritarians in that the latter tend to praise tolerance, consensus, and deliberation to a
greater extent (Della Porta, 2005), and in that they specifically avoid actions that are
potentially harmful to others (Welzel & Deutsch, 2012). For different reasons, they are also
more frequently involved in illegal protests than individuals with extremely high
authoritarianism values because the former have a greater tolerance to disorder and are less
submissive to authority (Gutting, 2020; Passini, 2017).
In that sense, we can expect, according to our data, more illegal protests in the years
to come since this type of authoritarian individual is all but rare in US society (Hetherington
& Weiler, 2009). And, although more research would be needed to explicitly confirm the
background and antecedents of protest processes such as that perpetrated by rioters on
January 6th, the results of the current paper suggest these people may not be more
authoritarians than the average American citizen. In fact, it is likely that even more
authoritarians’ individuals have supported, but only watched, from the outside what happened
in the Capitol. We expect future research to further determine these theoretical premises.
However, while authoritarian values are significantly related to illegal protest, they
only explain a limited share of the variance. Prior protest participation and social media news
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use are stronger predictors of illegal protest. Although not the core of our research, we
contend that the potential relationship between social media news, authoritarian values, and
illegal protest are worthy of greater consideration since the ‘virtuous circle’ between media
and citizen engagement (Norris, 2000) might now become unvirtuous in the era of social
media news, at least for certain people. For instance, social media news might have an
activating effect on latent authoritarians (Glas & Taylor, 2018) due to the increasing presence
of fake news on social media (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017) that might enhance the perception
of threat to society, thus triggering illegal protest among authoritarians. Some authors even
suggest that authoritarian movements and parties resort to the rhetoric of the supposed
‘horizontalism’ of social media to mask vertical relationships and authoritarian techniques
(Rensmann, 2017). Further research on these connections would be certainly welcome.
These results contribute to a better understanding of illegal protestors in democratic
political systems, connecting legal protest with illegal protest and drawing a thinner line
between the classical typology of citizen’s conventional and unconventional political
participation. Furthermore, it contributes to the literature of high-risk activists careers
(Verhulst & Walgrave, 2009) by focusing on illegal protest, a form of political behavior that
has received far less attention than other forms of participation. It also contributes to the
literature on political values since it uncovers the so far hidden curvilinear effect of
authoritarianism on illegal protest. Overall, this paper highlights the likelihood of an
individual engaging in illegal protest increases, hand by hand, as his level of authoritarianism
may also increase. But only up to a certain tipping point, beyond which the extreme
authoritarian prefers letting others do the ‘harsh dirty job’. In the end, this points at future
lines of research in the intersection between political values, protest, and social media.
Finally, our methodological strategy (online opt-in panel survey) is increasingly used in
social research (Callegaro et al., 2014; Lehdonvirta, Oksanen, Räsänen, & Blank, 2021), in
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particular with regard to controversial political topics (Nai & Maier, 2021; Williamson,
2019). Since the present research taps into an illicit behavior, this survey strategy is
particularly suited to it because the evidence consistently shows that internet self-
administered surveys are less susceptible to social desirability response bias with regard to
political behaviors (Holbrook & Krosnick, 2010; Persson & Solevid, 2014). As a result, in the
present study, we found a higher number of protesters than expected according to previous
studies (DiGrazia, 2014). While this gives us, in principle, more information about the
protestor profile, it can also be a sign of certain shortcomings of this type of survey: problems
of coverage and self-selection biases that are sometimes also present in probabilistic methods
(Baker et al., 2010), and problems of measurement accuracy and estimate error that are
consistently bigger than in probabilistic surveys (Macinnis, Krosnick, Ho, & Cho, 2018).
Therefore, the results of the present study should be taken with caution, and we invite
scholars in the field to confirm these findings with other probabilistic designs.
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This research aims to identify values related to political and civic participation methods among the two groups of radicalised youngsters: native youth who support movements labelled as far-right (N= 122) and migrant-origin self-identified Muslim youth with strong organisational ties with religious communities (N=109) in Germany, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. The study posits that these these radically aligned youngsters position themselves against politically moderate European citizens, who are less intuitive when making judgements on political affairs comparing to them. Diverging from the unifying European values and hypersensitivities, these youngsters’ political reactions are often radical and loud in their safe-to-speak, segregated movements. By using the narrations of the range of mainstream modes of political participation, the current qualitative research asks what appears valuable for the two groups of young people to express their political discontent. Findings revealed that both groups highlighted similar values regarding voting. Self-identified Muslim youth stressed the importance of volunteering and street protests (despite not having participated in one). Many native youths, on the other hand, stressed the function of unlawful behaviour in street protests to pursue political objectives. The findings such as these are discussed considering the group differences.
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As institutional forms of political engagement continue to decline, participation in protests steadily become more common. These trends are particularly strong among younger citizens. Previous research indicates that social factors can explain participation in political protests, and that younger citizens' participation in protests is more affected by social ties than older people's participation. Even though the desire for social affiliation is a fundamental human need, there are individual differences in the need for belongingness. The aim of the current study is to investigate if part of younger people's higher level of participation in protests can be explained by individual-level differences in belongingness needs. More specifically, the study investigates whether a larger part of younger people's participation is explained by need to belong (NTB), as compared to older people's participation. In line with the hypothesis, results from a survey study of a representative sample of the Swedish population (N = 2034), show that only younger people's participation is predicted by individual-level belongingness needs; the higher the NTB among young people, the higher the tendency to protest, while this effect is absent among older people. These results have important implications for our understanding of participation in protest activities and youth mobilization. ARTICLE HISTORY
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en The use of online surveys has grown rapidly in social science and policy research, surpassing more established methods. We argue that a better understanding is needed, especially of the strengths and weaknesses of non‐probability online surveys, which can be conducted relatively quickly and cheaply. We describe two common approaches to non‐probability online surveys—river and panel sampling—and theorize their inherent selection biases: namely, topical self‐selection and economic self‐selection. We conduct an empirical comparison of two river samples (Facebook and web‐based sample) and one panel sample (from a major survey research company) with benchmark data grounded in a comprehensive population registry. The river samples diverge from the benchmark on demographic variables and yield much higher frequencies on non‐demographic variables, even after demographic adjustments; we attribute this to topical self‐selection. The panel sample is closer to the benchmark. When examining the characteristics of a non‐demographic subpopulation, we detect no differences between the river and panel samples. We conclude that non‐probability online surveys do not replace probability surveys, but augment the researcher's toolkit with new digital practices, such as exploratory studies of small and emerging non‐demographic subpopulations. Abstract zh 网络调查的使用已在社会科学和政策研究中快速增长, 使用次数比更早确立的方法还多。我们主张, 应更好地了解网络调查的优缺点, 尤其是非概率网络调查, 后者能以相对快速和耗资较少的形式进行。我们描述了两种常用的非概率网络调查方法—随机抽样和面板抽样—并将其内在的选择偏差进行理论化, 即主题性自我选择和经济性自我选择。我们用一个全面人口登记处的基准数据, 对两个随机样本(脸书和基于Web样本)和一个面板样本(选自一个大型调查研究公司)进行了一项实证比较。随机样本偏离人口变量基准, 其出现非人口变量的频率高出许多, 即使对人口数据进行调整后也是如此; 我们将这一现象归因于主题性自我选择。面板抽样则更接近基准数据。当检验不基于人口数据的亚群时, 我们发现随机样本与面板样本之间不存在差异。我们的结论认为, 非概率网络调查无法代替概率调查, 但能以新的数字实践扩大研究人员的工具组, 例如探究小型或新兴的不基于人口数据的亚群。 Abstract esEl uso de encuestas en línea ha crecido rápidamente en las ciencias sociales y la investigación de políticas, superando los métodos más establecidos. Argumentamos que se necesita una mejor comprensión, especialmente de las fortalezas y debilidades de las encuestas en línea no probabilísticas, que se pueden realizar de manera relativamente rápida y económica. Describimos dos enfoques comunes para las encuestas en línea no probabilísticas (muestreo de ríos y paneles) y teorizamos sus sesgos de selección inherentes: a saber, la autoselección tópica y la autoselección económica. Realizamos una comparación empírica de dos muestras de río (Facebook y muestra basada en la web) y una muestra de panel (de una importante empresa de investigación de encuestas) con datos de referencia basados en un registro de población integral. Las muestras de ríos divergen del punto de referencia en variables demográficas y producen frecuencias mucho más altas en variables no demográficas, incluso después de ajustes demográficos; atribuimos esto a la autoselección tópica. La muestra del panel está más cerca del punto de referencia. Al examinar las características de una subpoblación no demográfica, no detectamos diferencias entre las muestras de río y panel. Concluimos que las encuestas en línea sin probabilidad no reemplazan las encuestas con probabilidad, sino que aumentan el conjunto de herramientas del investigador con nuevas prácticas digitales, como estudios exploratorios de subpoblaciones no demográficas pequeñas y emergentes.
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Based on social identity theory and the dual process model of social attitudes, we argue that individuals high in right-wing authoritarianism are motivated to identify with their national in-group. In addition, considering that national identities are shaped by political and historical factors, we propose that authoritarian individuals will identify more with their national in-group in countries with less respect for civil liberties. We tested our predictions through multilevel models using a cross-cultural sample of 19 countries (n = 17,150). We found support for our theoretical arguments, such that right-wing authoritarianism predicted national identification and that association was stronger among countries with less respect for civil liberties. These results highlight the importance of historical and political factors in the study of national identification and its association with socio-political attitudes.
Political protests cannot succeed without public support. Extant studies point to weaker average support among ideological conservatives, but researchers have yet to consider the extent to which such apparent ideological asymmetry is (a) an artifact of the particular protest cases that researchers have tended to investigate, and/or (b) conditioned by the precise meaning of “ideological conservatism.” In this investigation, we address these gaps. Specifically, we analyze public perceptions of protest legitimacy after exposing survey respondents to one of a series of experimental treatments that randomize the specific ideological and issue contents of the particular protests under consideration. In iterative models, we observe how political ideology, social dominance orientation and authoritarianism condition the effects associated with these experimental treatments. The data suggest that that the notorious ideological asymmetry that is often associated with support for protests is authentic, but it is also conditioned in important ways by these other factors.
An intriguing phenomenon consists in the fact that widespread support for democracy coexists in many countries with the persistent absence of democracy itself. Addressing this phenomenon, we show that in most places where it exists people understand democracy in ambiguous ways, such that “authoritarian” notions of what democracy means mix with—and even overshadow—liberal notions, in spite of the contradiction between these two notions. Underlining this contradiction, our evidence shows that authoritarian notions of democracy question the authenticity of liberal notions when both are endorsed conjointly. Worse, the evidence further suggests that authoritarian notions reverse the whole meaning of support for democracy, indeed indicating support for autocracy instead. Arguably, this reversal in the meaning of support for democracy lends legitimacy to authoritarian rule, which helps to explain where autocracy endures. Testing alternative explanations of authoritarian notions of democracy, we find that emancipative values are most influential, exerting a two-fold “enlightening” effect in (a) making people recognize the contradiction between liberal and authoritarian notions of democracy and (b) turning them against authoritarian notions. In a nutshell, the prospects of democracy are bleak where emancipative values remain weak.
This book compares the demographic characteristics and political views of voters and non-voters in U.S. presidential elections since 1972 and examines how electoral reforms and the choices offered by candidates influence voter turnout. Drawing on a wealth of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and the American National Election Studies, the book demonstrates that the rich have consistently voted more than the poor for the past four decades, and that voters are substantially more conservative in their economic views than non-voters. The book finds that women are now more likely to vote than men, that the gap in voting rates between blacks and whites has largely disappeared, and that older Americans continue to vote more than younger Americans. The book also shows how electoral reforms such as Election Day voter registration and absentee voting have boosted voter turnout, and how turnout would also rise if parties offered more distinct choices. Providing the most systematic analysis available of modern voter turnout, this book reveals that persistent class bias in turnout has enduring political consequences, and that it really does matter who votes and who doesn't.
What explains support for violence against the state? The surge in survey-based studies in (former) conflict areas has improved our understanding of the determinants of armed conflict. Yet, the potential interaction between grievances and political opportunity structure has received little attention in microlevel studies. Integrating common arguments from the civil war literature with the political behavior tradition, this article argues that perceived political efficacy, a central component of the political opportunity structure, moderates the association between individual and group grievance and people’s support for political violence. It represents a first individual-level test of the argument that perceived political opportunity structure and grievances combine to explain internal armed conflict. Using original survey data from Guatemala, Nepal, and Northern Ireland (2016), we find robust empirical evidence that support for violence increases with perceived grievance and decreases with political efficacy; and some evidence of an interaction between the two.