Protests

How Important Are Nonviolent Protests and Media Criticism in Preserving Democracy? Depends Which Party You Belong to!

Striking findings from Pew Research

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen / Wikimedia Commons

A recent Pew Research report looked into what characteristics Americans feel are essential for a strong democracy to flourish. The survey asked 1,503 American adults how important things such as fair and open national elections are in preserving democracy.

Of those surveyed, 89 percent believed that open and fair national elections were essential for a strong democracy, while 83 percent saw having a system of checks and balances as critical. Seventy-nine percent thought that people having the right to nonviolently protest was important, and 74 percent favored protecting the rights of people who hold unpopular views. Only 64 percent thought that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders was essential.

Breaking the data down along party lines shows little difference between Republicans and Democrats—except on a two key points.

Sixty-eight percent of Republicans viewed nonviolent protests as important, compared to 88 percent of Democrats.

Republicans' lower propensity to see this right as essential is reflected in a recent push to crack down on the practice. GOP lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced some form of anti-protesting legislation, according to The Washington Post.

Inspired by the North Dakota pipeline protests, state Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced a bill that would make motorists not liable for unintentionally hitting protesters who are blocking a roadway. A bill sponsored by Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman would make intentionally blocking traffic on a highway a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Missouri Rep. Don Phillips introduced legislation to penalize anyone wearing a mask or disguise during an unlawful protest.

Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have called the anti-protesting legislation unconstitutional and an "unlawful infringements on our right to speak." As the ACLU notes, some of the bills have stalled (including the one in North Dakota) or been dropped altogether (including ones in Michigan and Virginia).

A 20-percentage-point difference is nothing to sneeze at, but it pales in comparison to the current partisan divide over the importance of the right of the press to criticize political officials. While 76 percent of Democrats believed a free press was essential, only 49 percent of Republicans felt the same way.

Trust in the media has been declining, as noted by Gallup, so it's no wonder both Democrats and Republicans feel journalists' role in preserving democracy is less vital than the role of things like checks and balances. But you still have to wonder at the extent to which President Trump's ongoing feud with the media and the anti-Trump protests of recent months seem to be shaping the views of GOP supporters. It's also hard not to think the results might be flipped if Democrats were still in power.

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  1. Only 64 percent thought that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders was essential.

    Let us now unpack the reasons why the Fourth Estate is losing relevance.

    1. I wonder more about how this number would change if the press actually DID this versus how it would change if the WH was held by her lordship.

  2. The right to movement being protected is not the same as an anti-protest law. If someone is protesting, fine. If they attempt to interfere with my rights via their “protest” they have become aggressors and should be held liable. I should also be allowed to use force (as necessary and if necessary) in order to protect my rights even against someone who is impeding me… and even if the rest of their activities at the time are protesting. The right of travel does not get trumped by the right to speak/assemble/protest.

    1. Well put.

      I’m a hippie and have no problem with protesting (even if it’s probably pointless most of the time), but get the fuck out of the road. I don’t what they think they’re accomplishing either. I don’t care if Judge Nap, Justin Amash, Trey Parker, Ron Swanson and the ghost of Thomas fucking Jefferson are holding up “Fire Shika” signs. Stand in the middle of the highway when I’m on my way to work and you’ve just made a new enemy.

    2. Agree. What the hell is wrong with Reason that they would conflate people blocking a highway with peaceful protest. Prison terms are completely appropriate for people who engage in such activities.

  3. “Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced a bill that would make motorists not liable for unintentionally hitting protesters who are blocking a roadway. A bill sponsored by Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman would make intentionally blocking traffic on a highway a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.”

    None of these actions are legal protest tactics

    1. I don’t think highway protesting should be legal, but that doesn’t mean any law opposing it is valid. 5 years and a felony for this are way over the top. The liability one seems too broad if there aren’t qualifiers. If you unintentionally hit someone for a negligent reason (e.g. weren’t paying attention to the road) I don’t think it’s unjustified to still find liability even if the person you hit was breaking the law.

      1. I disagree. Considering that everything is being labeled as protesting now, what if a driver is trapped by the people in Charlotte that were assaulting motorists while blocking the expressway? If you walk onto a freeway, you assume the consequences of getting hit by a car.

        1. If a person is deliberately impeding you in your effort to go somewhere you have the right to go, it’s kidnapping.

        2. If a mob that’s assaulting people is moving towards you, I don’t have a problem with doing whatever it takes to get away, but I don’t even see how that’s relevant to the example since in that scenario the driver would be intentionally hitting people. I’m not saying anyone who hits someone is liable, you can hit someone unintentionally without negligence. I’m saying if someone is driving recklessly or negligently and hits someone, I don’t think they’re off the hook because the other person wasn’t following the law. I’m fairly certain this applies to the more common example of jaywalking as well.

        3. We have a law to charge those people with. It’s kid napping. We don’t need a new law.

          1. No, it really isn’t kidnapping. Maybe false imprisonment if they also prevent you from leaving your car safely.

      2. If the “protestor” wasn’t in the middle of the road, it’d be a non-issue. They should be where they belong.

  4. In a similar vein, I saw a poll recently that asked whether protesting Trump should be legal or illegal. 48% of Republicans said legal and 40% illegal, while it was 79% and 13% for Democrats. Just one poll, and PPP is a left-leaning outlet (although empirically, their polling on average doesn’t have a huge bias toward one party relative to the actual result. I think they did miss in 2016, though I’m not sure if it was worse than average), but I’d like to see more polls like these, and see if there are any similar ones from the Obama era to compare to. My guess is that you would indeed see a huge flip where the opposition party is almost entirely in favor of allowing protest against the current administration, but the party in power is split on whether that should be legal. I really just have to scratch my head on the segment that flip flops on this. How short are their memories?

    http://www.publicpolicypolling….._22417.pdf

    1. 13% of Democrats said protesting trump should be illegal?

      * blinks *

      … what?

    2. ^^^this. It’s really about who is in power. When Obama was in power the Dems were all about shutting down dissent, and now it has flipped

  5. In a society that has a free press, protests are not important and generally either useless exercises in virtue signaling or worse acts of political violence aimed at invoking the heckler’s veto. Protests are deadly to repressive regimes because repressive regimes depend upon people thinking they are alone in opposing the government. If the day ever comes when everyone who opposes an oppressive and unpopular government stands up together and does so, the government is done. So protests are a huge threat to such governments because they show people they are not alone.

    In a society that has a free press and free communication like ours, protests serve no purpose other than virtue signaling. Take the protests at the inauguration. Did anyone see those and go “my God, I thought I was the only one who didn’t like Trump”? No. We have a free press and a vibrant political culture. So everyone knew a decent portion of the country didn’t like Trump. So, the protests accomplished nothing.

    1. Think of how politically useless protests have been over the years. The anti-war movement protested Vietnam for years. Yet, Vietnam continued, Nixon was re-elected in a landslide and the war didn’t end until Nixon and the North Vietnamese decided it would.

      The same is true of the war in Iraq. What did the protests of those wars accomplish? Nothing. Why? Because everyone was free to voice their opinion and vote based on the war. So the protests didn’t accomplish anything beyond giving the people involved in them a reason to feel good and something to do.

      1. I think you’ve got that just right. Protesting (in the demonstrating in the streets sense) in a reasonably free country is almost always going to be pointless for the reasons you state. It’s all just vanity, social signalling or a place to hang out and meet people.

      2. I still don’t know what the point of the women’s march was. At least the march for life has a very specific agenda.

        Was the women’s march?

        A. Trump is hitler
        B. Free stuff
        C. Green Party Platform
        D. Make Believe Grievances
        E. Abortion
        F. Some of above
        G. All of the above

      3. Protests are successful to the extent that they bring attention to a point of view and persuade.

        The civil rights protests of the ’60s ultimately succeeded because MLK understood the value of the moral high ground and as people saw and heard about non-violent protesters getting beaten and killed, etc. they came to understand and agree with the moral point of the protests.

        The Vietnam protests also had some impact, because they asked questions that the powers that be struggled to honestly answer. The effectiveness of those protests was diminished due to the behavior of some of the more radical folks among the protesting group, but they did result in a sitting President becoming so unpopular that he declined to run for reelection and they arguably forced the rabidly anti-Communist Nixon to negotiate the terms of our withdrawal.

        Today’s protests aren’t very effective because they either don’t have a coherent message (i.e., the Women’s March) or they consist of a bunch of people who seemingly just want to tear shit up.

        1. Protests are successful to the extent that they bring attention to a point of view and persuade.

          That is true. But they are unnecessary when the point of view is already well known. If everyone already is aware of the point of view, what purpose does the protest serve?

          The protests today are not effective because they are nearly always done by leftists. And what leftist point of view doesn’t already get attention from the media?

          Contrast that with the Tea party protests. They were effective because they brought attention to a POV that the media refuse to cover.

        2. The civil rights protests of the 60’s were a bit different, because the participants were often taking actual risks and had something at stake. They put the people in power in a position where they had to use violence beyond what the general public would accept if they wanted to maintain segregation and other racist policies.

          1. Agreed. These people are well off looking for something to make them feel important

            1. I basically agree with all that y’all are saying. I was addressing what (I thought) John said regarding protests being worthless.

              Yeah, everybody in the ’60s was aware that blacks were being mistreated in the south, but seeing the dogs and the fire hoses and the burned churches and the angry, violent white mobs brought the extent of the mistreatment home in a way that mere knowledge couldn’t.

              Protests of today are a muddled mess. Frequently it’s people demanding things that are beyond basic rights. And even when it’s not – well, take BLM for example. I’m sympathetic to what they want to achieve (to the degree that I can understand it, anyway) but the message is muddled and the tactics are frequently poor.

              People who are protesting need to have the self-awareness to ask themselves – do we want to accomplish something or do we just want to throw a fit? Fit throwing isn’t going to accomplish diddly.

          2. were often taking actual risks and had something at stake.

            Bingo. Look at Muhammad Ali and what he gave up for conscience versus Colin Kapernick.

          3. Ultimately that’s the goal of a lot of progressive protestors right now. They want to become so annoying and irksome that they provoke a government crackdown. Then they can turn around and say “See, we told you that this was an oppressive regime! Look at how they’re repressing us!” That’s especially true of the black bloc anarchists. The issue is whether they’re going to reach the point of becoming so annoying that the public might side with the police kicking their faces in while they’re lying prone on the ground.

            1. Maybe. Lately I have taken to listening to the two local public radio stations for a few hours each week while I putter around the house and yard. I believe it is important to know what and how your opponent is thinking. Especially now that the left is out of power and still in a stupor. A recurring theme from hosts and guests is a desire to live in tumultuous times like the late sixties early seventies. Typical was someone being interviewed a few weeks ago (sorry don’t remember his name) and he stated it was not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ Trump had his version of Kent State. The use of violence was inevitable. He seemed to relish its coming.
              This reminded me of a book I read ten years ago or so titled, “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges. We have it pretty good here in the US but I think many on the left are trying to find meaning and thus good feelings in their lives by being a part of the great struggle against some common enemy. They too hope to live in interesting times.

    2. Whether these protests accomplished anything has absolutely nothing to do with proposed restrictions on the legality of those protests, so keep virtue signaling, you SJW.

    3. Just walked into the kitchen, where the wife was making dinner and had the news on the TV. They were covering the Obamacare alternative thing, and of course the gist of it was how awful it was that someone might lose their coverage.

      They were showing a “protest” at one of the “town halls” and an angry woman had the mike. She bellowed “Let me tell you, there are three people in my family including me who would be dead, DEAD…and homeless if it weren’t for the ACA!!!” And the crowd roared.

      I’m, like, wait a minute….isn’t it a requirement that you be living to be counted among the homeless?

      That’s how you protest effectively in the 21st Century folks. Just bellow shit that makes no sense but plays to people’s pre-conceived bias.

      1. Yea it really doesn’t. Do folks just pass up care since they cant pay for it later? I mean it isnt like you dont get care first and then sort out pay later.

    4. protests serve no purpose other than virtue signaling

      They also enable people who agree with each other to socially network in person. While I agree that the primary purpose is virtue signaling, saying they serve “no” other purpose seems, well, incorrect.

    5. In a society that has a free press, protests are not important and generally either useless exercises in virtue signaling or worse acts of political violence aimed at invoking the heckler’s veto.

      No, that’s wrong. Some of the big predictable demonstrations are like that, but there are many times when the press fails or refuses to cover an issue, and then protests can wake things up.

      For example, if there were frequent protests against civil asset forfeiture, we might start seeing a little press coverage.

  6. Only 64 percent thought that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders was essential.

    Uh-huh. And what percent thought that their sorry asses being free to criticize political leaders was essential?

  7. I dont really have a problem with either of these except for the 5 years thing..(maybe a steep fine and community service)

    “Inspired by the North Dakota pipeline protests, state Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced a bill that would make motorists not liable for unintentionally hitting protesters who are blocking a roadway. A bill sponsored by Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman would make intentionally blocking traffic on a highway a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. “

    1. Based on input above….i think there should be qualifiers for hitting motorist

    2. Five years is the maximum, not the minimum.

      1. Yea but still a bit much i think. Perhaps 3 months at most

        1. No. It’s not a bit much. They are using force to hold a group of people hostage. They shouldn’t even need a new law. Just punish them as hostage takers.

          1. Oh, so they’re trapping you in your car? Preventing you from taking an alternate route?

            Sure, protesters that block highways are assholes, but it’s generally a moderate inconvenience.

            1. So you suggest you are supposed to get out of a car on a freeway? Get out of a car when a angry mob confronts you? And, unless you had advance warning no there aren’t alternative routes, and if you are lucky you might feel safe to get out of you car and illegally abandon it in the middle of the road. 5 years is less than they deserve.

              1. I suggested nothing of the sort. Just that your logic for using hostage laws is inherently stupid.

  8. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans viewed nonviolent protests as important, compared to 88 percent of Democrats.

    A wide margin between the two groups, but getting 68 percent of anything in a poll is pretty surprising. I’d say the reason that Republicans favor nonviolent protests at such a large margin is because over the last couple of decades, they’ve been on the protester end more often than in previous years.

    1. It’s also odd that Democrats find non-violent protests to be important when they so frequently don’t do non-violent protests.

  9. The problem with the “free press” is they are often bootlickers for one political party (sans like Reason). It would be nice if they would just come out and say it

    1. I mean like when they you know ask political campaigns if they are allowed to print a certain article or receive distributed talking points from a political party

  10. I give the alt-text a 6/10.

    1. A passing grade on the bell curve considering most Reason authors forego the extra credit.

      1. Oh yeah. I could be persuaded into the 8/10 range and without Shackford it’s a solid 9/10. Mostly, I just didn’t want a sincere and legit attempt alt-text to go unrecognized.

    2. I agree with the 6/10 – the intern has set the bar high for herself, so I expect more. I mean, if Soave had produced that I would have:

      1). Picked my jaw up off my bare lap
      2). Showered him with compliments.
      3). Pretended that his alt text triumph would lead me to increase my donation.

      That being said: let your gardens grow, girls!

    3. How dare you assume the individual in the picture identifies as a “she”?

  11. Hey Lindsay Marchello, you are breath of fresh air in this place for the dying. I appreciate that, keep up the good work.

      1. *hugs back*

        I’m just turning into a curmudgeon. The sort who would wear a Make Reason Great Again hat.

    1. Not to be confused with Lindsay Marcella.

  12. LA Riots protests.

  13. Was there a place in the poll to register your opinion that a strong democracy flourishing was an impossible dream? There’s a reason we’re not a democracy, democracy tends to degenerate into mob rule. I’d say we’re at least halfway there – when you look at how vicious the struggle for power has become, you know that power is being used illegitimately to oppress others. With a limited government, serving in a public position should be little more than jury duty, a pain in the ass that you gotta take your turn doing once in a while because somebody’s gotta do it. There’s little to do but keep the lights on and the garbage collected in a limited democracy, you don’t have the power to go screwing with other people.

    But look at your top men in Washington now, the Clintons and the Obamas, how the fucking fuck does a humble public servant go into office a nobody shit-kicker from nowhereville and come out of office a multi-millionaire? You think they got that rich and powerful by serving others? Hell, no – they got that rich and powerful because there’s a shitload of screwing with other people available.

    1. Proggie’s vision of “meritocracy” features the First Woman President whose entire political career existed because she was attached to a successful male politician. It should not be surprising that they also consider these same people (who attained personal wealth by being government influence traders) to have “earned” their wealth, unlike those terrible people who work for those terribly immoral corporations.

  14. “Of those surveyed, 89 percent believed that open and fair national elections were essential for a strong democracy, while 83 percent saw having a system of checks and balances as critical. Seventy-nine percent thought that people having the right to nonviolently protest was important, and 74 percent favored protecting the rights of people who hold unpopular views. Only 64 percent thought that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders was essential.”

    Who are the idiots who said “no” to this stuff?

    1. They might just be suspicious of what the unspoken premises behind each of these ambiguously worded questions are. Take “open and fair national elections” ? we’ve seen a full court press by “progressives” to try to delegitimize the last election by claiming that the Russians “hacked” it.

      The “right to nonviolently protest” ? does that include trespassing on private property? Blocking traffic short of actively threatening motorists by pounding on their vehicles? “Occupying” public buildings to prevent others from being able to use them for their intended purposes?

      Does “protecting the rights of people who hold unpopular views” just mean that they can’t be fined or jailed by the government or does it mean that college professors and teachers can use their classrooms to promote their own political beliefs without fear of being fired?

      As far as “news organizations being free to criticize political leaders” ? does that include putting out false stories without fear of being sued for slander or libel because the target is a public figure? Does it mean that even when they’re acting as a wholly-owned subsidiary of one political party, that elected officials from the other party must grant them the same access as the ones that actually try to report the news? Or does it only mean that the government can forcibly act to stop them from publishing or broadcasting?

  15. Blocking highways is not nonviolent. Firstly, they are denying the motorists the right of free movement.

    Secondly, have you ever seen one of these in action? They pound on people’s cars. Again, not non-violent.

  16. Also, we don’t have a free press. Pretty much every news organization is aligned with a political party. Mostly Democrat, some like Fox News, Republican, and even places like Reason are LIbertarian, not libertarian, defending a non-libertarian doofus like Gary Johnson no matter the dumb things he says or the anti-liberty views he promotes..

  17. “While 76 percent of Democrats believed a free press was essential, only 49 percent of Republicans felt the same way”

    Yet the Democrats have proposed a Constitutional amendment to limit 1st amendment protections for press rights which amendment Republicans are largely against…go figure.

    1. I believe we’re dealing with abstractions here. Ask a Democrat if they’re in favor of a totally free press, they’ll generally respond in the affirmative. Then ask them if something needs to be done about fake news or hate speech in the media. You’ll likely get a surprising answer.

      1. Yup. They like the idea of it… Not the reality.

        They’re for a free press as long as the press is only free to report from the correct viewpoint.

  18. Because politics is like rooting for a sports team

  19. While 76 percent of Democrats believed a free press was essential, only 49 percent of Republicans felt the same way.

    I wonder if it was any different before the election when the consensus — the consensus of truth! — was that Hillary would win. The press has been so blatantly pro-State and Progressive that I wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t changed much, mainly because to Progressives, the Press is the same as our Press.

    1. It’s not the freedom of the Press that is essential, but their objectivity and honesty.

      The MSM is the Progressive Pravda; it’s plenty free, but not truthful, objective or honest.

  20. Republicans’ lower propensity to see this right as essential is reflected in a recent push to crack down on the practice. GOP lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced some form of anti-protesting legislation, according to The Washington Post.

    Most of the laws, even as spun by the WaPo, weren’t aimed at “protest”, but against rioters and thugs.

    And it’s about time.

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