Back in June, the sudden firing of data scientist David Shor from the progressive consulting firm Civis Analytics raised eyebrows.
Shor had publicized research from the social scientist Omar Wasow showing that violent protests tend to backfire on progressive goals—tipping the 1968 election in favor of the law-and-order candidate, Richard Nixon, for instance—whereas peaceful protests often succeed. In response, Shor was widely derided by the left. On Twitter, the progressive activist Ari Trujillo Wesler accused him of using his "anxiety and 'intellect' as a vehicle for anti-blackness." Employees and clients of Civis Analytics said Shor's statement—which, to be clear, was merely an endorsement of well-grounded social science research that says nonviolent protest is strategically superior—had threatened their very safety, according to New York magazine's Jonathan Chait.
As a result, Shor was terminated. The exact reason for the firing was never specified, but it spoke to concerns among many liberal thinkers—Chait, Vox's Matt Yglesias, and others—that certain sects of the left are unwilling to have difficult conversations about tactics. This is a concern shared by many libertarians, and supporters of free speech culture more broadly.
On Wednesday, polling by Marquette Law School showed that support for Black Lives Matter has plummeted among white Wisconsinites. (The poll was conducted before the recent police shooting in Kenosha, and thus does not reflect attitudes toward that event.)
"A substantial majority approved of protests in June, but this fell to an even split, 48-48 in August," wrote polling director Charles Franklin. Black and Hispanic attitudes toward Black Lives Matter changed little over the summer, but white approval had fallen and "become net negative."
A related piece in Politico surveyed residents of Kenosha—where peaceful protests but also violence, rioting, fires, and looting have consumed the streets at night—and perhaps unsurprisingly discovered plenty of wariness, even among people who are not exactly the law-and-order type:
"There's no doubt it's playing into Trump's hands," said Paul Soglin, who served as mayor of Madison, on and off, for more than two decades. "There's a significant number of undecided voters who are not ideological, and they can move very easily from Republican to the Democratic column and back again.They are, in effect, the people who decide elections. And they are very distraught about both the horrendous carnage created by police officers in murdering African Americans, and … for the safety of their communities." …
Billy Stevens, an African American man who was helping paint the murals, agreed that the violence and destruction on display in the city give Trump more to point to in his reelection campaign.
"He tries to paint a picture of Democratic leaders being weak. Personally, I think it's divisive in times like these," Stevens said. At the same time, Stevens said Kenosha is desperate for order. "Now we're sending in more troops for a large show of force immediately. I do think it's needed right now." ..
Soglin said he's concerned some Democrats aren't paying close enough attention to the business owners and residents in communities coming under attack who want protection. The situation is likely having the biggest effect on swing voters, he said.
John "Sly" Sylvester, a longtime Democrat and radio personality who has been active in the labor movement, said he feared Democrats have a "blind spot" to rioters and looters.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden's lead in Minnesota—whose governor has dispatched the National Guard to quell continuing protest-related violence in Minneapolis—continues to shrink. He was up more than 10 points on July 1, but his lead is now just five points, according to the latest polls.
This is not to say that Biden's campaign is imperiled: He's still clearly ahead. Nor is it the case that Biden is the avatar of violent protests and Trump the avatar of a return to normalcy. Biden has condemned needless violence and failed to fall in line with the more militant left wing of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the lawlessness has actually occurred on Trump's watch, and the president has done very little to effectively counter it: Trump's main contributions thus far have been to sweep peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park in Washington D.C. so that he could pose for a photo; deploy federal law enforcement officers to Portland, where the unrest only worsened; and tweet the words "LAW AND ORDER."
But there's plenty of reason to think that Shor's concerns, and Wasow's research, have even more relevance today than they did at the start of the summer. It would be wise for progressives to consider the well-supported idea that what's happening in Kenosha and Minneapolis—and Portland, and even Washington, D.C.—is a net negative for the causes they support.