Speed Reads

Science says

Here's how you can tell if a protest is working

If a protest happens on the National Mall and the president doesn't care, did it really happen? A study from economists at Harvard University and Stockholm University says yes, because the success of a protest is best measured not by its direct effect on politicians but rather in the effect it has on the protesters themselves.

The researchers found that when a protest has a large turnout — and, as a result, boosts "local strength of the movement as measured by donations, media coverage, social networking activity, and later events" — the protest participants are politically activated in a way that pays political dividends after a given protest is long over. For example, each additional protester at a 2009 Tax Day rally, the study's specific focus, correlated to an extra seven to 14 votes for the local Republican candidate in the 2010 election.

A new analysis from The Washington Post finds a comparable effect from petitions, too. "Contrary to conventional wisdom, petitions can have a long-term organizational legacy even if their short-term policy effect is zero," the Post piece explains, because their greatest impact is in recruiting new people to the cause. Paper petitions are probably the most effective in this regard, as the face-to-face interaction that comes with signing inspires a greater emotional commitment in the signer than an online petition form is likely to do.