“Agenda Seeding: How 1960s Black Protests Moved Media, Public Opinion and Voting,” Omar Wasow, Princeton University
AMERICAN & COMPARATIVE POLITICAL BEHAVIOR WORKSHOP
Abstract: How do stigmatized minorities advance agendas when confronted with hostile majorities? Elite theories of influence posit marginal groups exert little power. I propose the concept of agenda seeding to describe how activists use methods like disruption to capture the attention of media and overcome political asymmetries. Further, I hypothesize protest tactics influence how news organizations frame demands. Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, Congressional speech and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share among whites increase 1.3-1.6%. Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968, using rainfall as an instrument, I find violent protests likely caused a 1.6-7.9% shift among whites towards Republicans and tipped the election. Elites may dominate political communication but hold no monopoly.
Omar Wasow is an Assistant Professor in Princeton’s Department of Politics. His research focuses on race, politics and statistical methods. His paper on the political consequences of the 1960s civil rights movement was published in the American Political Science Review. His co-authored work on estimating causal effects of race was published in the Annual Review of Political Science. He received a PhD in African American studies, an MA in Government and an MA in Statistics from Harvard University.
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