The Challenges of Doing Public Social Science

I started this site as a means of getting my findings out to the public quickly so the work can contribute to the conversation about the Resistance and where it is going in America.  To that end, I post drafts of chapters as they are written, provide summaries of preliminary findings, and give an overview of the research process generally as the work develops.  Last week I experienced first hand just how challenging doing public sociology can be.

Like previous large-scale marches since the Inauguration, I collected data with a research team in Washington DC at the March for Our Lives.   The results from the data we collected from 256 individuals randomly sampled throughout the crowd yielded very interesting results.  The findings were different than expected (in terms of the ages of the people who turned out) and different from my findings from samples collected at previous marches in the Resistance (in terms of the motivations of the new people who participated)–see my previous post for a summary.  I presented some of these preliminary findings on Morning Joe on the following Monday (the 26th) and gave the highlights.  I was also asked to write up a piece for the Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post.

These findings were then picked up by Fox, the National Review, and Breitbart and I started getting nasty emails and phone calls.   The pieces framed my work as exposing the bias in the media narrative that had focused exclusively on the teens who organized the event, calling it a “student movement.” On Friday, Vox ran a piece focusing more deeply on the findings that got so much attention initially.  Then, Steve Kornacki presented my preliminary findings on MSNBC and spoke a little about the implications of these preliminary numbers with a panel on his show.

Overall, the work is getting out in the public sphere as I intended but it is a huge challenge:  first, I am used to working on a much different timeline–usually, I spend months doing data analysis and writing up my findings before it is even submitted for peer review (let alone published); second, I continue to be surprised that most people in the media do not wanted to hear/discuss interpretations of my findings with me.  Instead, they extrapolate on the preliminary (and relatively simplistic descriptive) analyses themselves.  There is no question that doing public sociology is worth it.  I just hope to learn from this experience and do it better moving forward…

The March for Our Lives Joins #theResistance

This past weekend, streets around the US and beyond were flooded with rallies once again, this time for the March for Our Lives.   The March in DC is estimated to have brought out up to 800,000 people to rally around the issue of Gun Control.

I was in the crowds in DC, surveying with a 6-person research team  (and my daughter who experienced her first protest and her first exposure to doing social science all on one day!).  Based on our sample of 256 participants that was collected from throughout the crowd there are some very notable findings:

  • Although the March was called by the Parkland students, most of the crowd was adults (only 9.7% of the crowd was under 18) and the average age of the adults participating was higher than at any other event that I have studied since the  Resistance began after Donald Trump’s Inauguration.
  • The March turned out a lot of new people to protest.  27% of March participants were completely new to protest (vs 16% at the 2018 Women’s March).
  • The March turned out a lot of political moderates.  16% of March participants identified as politically moderate (the highest percentage at any march since the Resistance began).
  • New people reported being much less motivated by the issue of Gun Control to participated (12% versus 60% of people who had participated in a protest before).

Overall, these findings suggest that free music and young people helped expand the tent at this event.  The question that remains is whether these people will stay involved in the issue of Gun Control and become active members of the Resistance?

Patterns of Intersectional Motivations Across the Resistance

” Why Are We Here? Patterns of Intersectional Motivations Across the Resistance,” which is an updated and expanded version of work that I first presented on this site is now available at SocArXiv.  The paper looks across the large-scale protest events of 2017 to understand the patterns of motivations that mobilized participants.

Similar analyses for the 2018 Women’s March is in the works and we will also run them for the March for our Lives once we have data to see how the patterns change.  With such a diverse range of groups calling for participation in the March this weekend–including the Hip Hop Caucus and Moms Demand Action–these patterns may be very different.

Getting ready for the #MarchforOurLives

This weekend, people will be marching around the country to protest Gun Violence in America at the March for Our Lives.  Sadly, this event follows another school shooting–this morning– in Maryland.  It is unclear how many people will be turning out (research finds that turnout is directly related to the weather and current events), but all indications are that the main march in Washington, DC will be in the hundreds of thousands and may even rival the size of the 2017 Women’s March. I will be out in the crowd with a research team on Saturday and plan to post preliminary results from the survey on this site early next week.


Some Updates on American Resistance

Tomorrow, I begin a set of talks around the US–starting at SXSW on Friday the 9th. Check out the Events page for a full list and try to come if you can!

In the meantime, I am preparing to collect data at the March for Our Lives  in Washington, DC on 24 March to add to the dataset of Resistance in the Streets.

The Resistance in the Districts chapter is in progress and will be posted in April.

Finally, here is a cleaner version of the updated timeline of Resistance in the Streets that is (hopefully) easier to read.


The Resistance Takes Aim at Gun Violence


On 14 February, 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida by a gunman who stormed the school with an assault style AR-15 rifle.  In the days following the school shooting, we have seen the usual political dance unfold with lawmakers publicly denouncing gun violence and myriad offers of thoughts and prayers.  At the same time, debate has circled around how, exactly, to define a “school shooting”— to determine when one should count as part of the growing statistic for 2018.

This past weekend, the survivors of the school shooting took to the airwaves and social media calling for policymakers to do something about gun violence in America.  As part of this campaign, the students have called for a National School Walkout on March 14th and the March for Our Lives on Washington, DC on March 24th.

It is not yet clear how these events will unfold and how this coordinated effort to take aim at gun violence in America (and in American schools) will connect with the broader themes and actors involved in the Resistance.  The Walkout is being coordinated by the organizers of the Women’s March and the March is likely to involve a coalition of progressive organizations that have been engaged in these issues for years.

For now, I have added these newly scheduled events to the Resistance in the Streets Timeline (above) and will keep monitoring.  I will most definitely be out in the streets of Washington, DC with a research team to survey protesters.  One likely challenge will be that, given the rules regulating our research, we will be unable to survey any participants under 18.



Coming Out the Other Side of the Issue-Attention Cycle

In 1972, Anthony Downs published a piece about the “Issue Attention Cycle,”  which specifically looked at the relationship between public opinion and media coverage.  Overall, he observed how an environmental problem “suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time, and then–though still largely unresolved–gradually fades from the center of public attention.”  Since its publication in the early ’70s, this cycle has been applied to numerous social issues.  Now, in the 10 days since the 2018 Women’s March, we have seen the issue-attention cycle focus briefly on the American Resistance and how it is mobilizing people to engage in resistance in the streets and then move on.

I had the opportunity to experience this cycle first-hand over the past week as I presented some preliminary findings on the most recent Women’s March on Morning Joe, the TakeAway as well as other media outlets.  Although the most accurate estimates report that around 2 million people marched over the anniversary of the Women’s March, attention quickly shifted away from the persistence of the resistance. I discussed this issue of waning/lacking media coverage briefly on the Thom Hartmann show last week, and it was the focus of a piece in Elle as well as Medium.

As President Trump addresses the nation in his first State of the Union tonight, I expect that the media will gloss over the fact that there has been sustained political engagement in the American Resistance since the day the Trump Administration began.  Whether the media cover this issue or not, there is no question that it is having an effect on politics in America and will change the way people engage in Democracy in America for generations to come.

What can we learn from Women’s March 2018?

I spoke about some of the preliminary findings from the data we collected this past weekend on Morning Joe and the Takeaway this morning.   Here is a summary of some of the other findings:

Participants have gotten involved and stayed involved in the Resistance:  130 participants (79.3%) reported also participating in the Women’s March on 21 January 2017, 67 (40.6%) reported also participating in the March for Science on 22 April 2017, and 43 (26.4%) reported also participating in the People’s Climate March on 29 April 2017, 38 (23.3%) reported also participating in the Equality March on 11 June 2017, and 27 (16.7%) reported also participating in the March for Racial Justice in Washington, DC on 30 September 2017.

Almost everyone (99.5% of respondents) said that the outcome of the 2016 election was important to their decision to participate in the 2018 Women’s March.

The 2018 Women’s March drew in people beyond mainstream Democrats: 84.5% reported being Left leaning, 10.8% reported being moderate/middle of the road, and 4.1% reported being Right leaning in their political orientation (total of 15%),  vs only 7% total at the Women’s March in 2017. In contrast to the 2017 March where over 90% of the participants reported voting for Clinton, 85% of participants in the 2018 Women’s March did.

The 2018 Women’s March participants had very high levels of educational attainment. Three quarters had a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, 78% were women and 77% were white (which is very similar to the demographic breakdown of educated Americans).  Identical to the 2017 event, the average age of participants at the 2018 Women’s March was 43 years old.


Resistance In the Streets Persists

On the one year anniversary of the Women’s March, (which took place on the anniversary of the Inauguration of Donald Trump and on the morning after the government shutdown), people took to the streets around the country once again.  Over 235 marches were scheduled to take place on the anniversary of the march this weekend.  Based on photos of these events and my experiences in Washington, DC, turnout was impressive.  Attached Chapter 2, which summarizes Resistance in the Streets over its first year.

Stay tuned for a summary of the data we collected from a random sample of 204 participants at the Women’s March today!

Chapter 2_ResistanceInTheStreets_FINAL

Talking About what Drives People to Engage

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Arab American Institute’s Generation Event last night to discuss social change in America. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk with people who are thinking about civic participation in America today and to share the results of my work on the Resistance.

Chapter 2: Resistance in the Streets goes live this weekend.  I plan to post it on Saturday morning before I head out to survey participants at the Women’s March on Washington 2018.  Although the event in DC won’t turn out the huge crowds we saw last year, I am heartened to see that people are planning to march this year in their own communities.  More than 250 events have been scheduled to take place around the US to commemorate the anniversary of the Women’s March.