Allies or Agitators?

How Partisan Identity Shapes Public Opinion about Violent or Nonviolent Protests.

Article appearing in Political Communication, 1-19

  • Co-Author:
  • Scott Radnitz with Yuan Hsiao
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Date: 2020

In recent years, scholars have argued that protests that employ nonviolent tactics attract greater support and are therefore more likely to succeed than those that use violence. We argue that how protest tactics are perceived is not a purely objective determination, but can be influenced in part by observer characteristics – in particular, by partisan identity. We conducted a survey experiment on two independent samples through the MTurk platform, randomly assigning protester group identity and tactics. Results show that when controlling for assigned tactics, self-identified Republicans but not Democrats perceive higher levels of violence when a disliked group is protesting. The effect is strongest in regard to tactics that are nominally the least disruptive. The findings have implications for theories of nonviolent protest, the legitimacy of repression, and the prospects for marginal groups to influence policy in polarized societies.