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The Political Power of Protest
Minority Activism and Shifts in Public Policy

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics

  • Date Published: April 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107031142

$ 93.00 (P)

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About the Authors
  • This book demonstrates the direct influence that political protest behavior has on Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court, illustrating that protest is a form of democratic responsiveness that government officials have used, and continue to draw on, to implement federal policies. Focusing on racial and ethnic minority concerns, this book shows that the context of political protest has served as a signal for political preferences. As pro–minority rights behavior grew and anti–minority rights actions declined, politicians learned from minority protest and responded when they felt emboldened by stronger informational cues stemming from citizens' behavior, a theory referred to as the “information continuum.” Given the influence that minority protest actions have wielded over national government, the book offers a powerful implication. Although the shift from protest to politics as a political strategy has opened the door for institutionalized political opportunity, racial and ethnic minorities have neglected a powerful tool to illustrate the inequalities that exist in contemporary society.

    • Details the influence of protest on public policy for each branch of federal government
    • The first book to demonstrate the geographical component of protest - argues that all protest is local, and that congressional leaders are more attuned to protest activities that occur in their own district than those occurring elsewhere
    • Illustrates that racial and ethnic minorities can effectively use protest activity to increase their concerns on the public agenda
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    • Co-Winner of the 2014 Best Book Award, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Dan Gillion’s new book makes an important contribution to several fields, including race and ethnic studies, social movements, agenda-setting, and representation. The analysis is novel in many ways, including its systematic treatment of the effect of protest on all three branches of government, its analyses of the particular targets of protest activities within Congress and the Supreme Court, its long time coverage, its coverage of several minority protest movements, and its attention to the public opinion context within which protests occur. These distinctive features ensure a wide audience and a lasting impact. It is a major contribution to several fields."
    Frank R. Baumgartner, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    "The Political Power of Protest offers a compelling new theoretical and empirical account of minority agenda setting in the post-civil rights era. For years, scholars and practitioners alike have looked to descriptive representation and conventional electoral politics as the primary vehicles for advancing minority political interests. What Gillion reveals is that protest remains a powerful tool. With direct political action, minority Americans can motivate greater policy responsiveness from all branches of government. Gillion’s research is a welcome arrival to the literature on democratic accountability, and it demands to be read."
    Claudine Gay, Harvard University

    "While a generation of scholarship in minority politics has documented that 'protest is not enough' for minorities to have a voice in the political system, this insightful books provides a long overdue correction to that adage. As this book illuminates, protest is key to agenda setting in national political institutions. With empirically rich details and theoretical sophistication, The Political Power of Protest will reenergize the debate about whether political incorporation in the electoral-representative system is sufficient enough for minorities to have their policy preferences acted on. In an age where the incorporation of minorities in the political system is triumphantly celebrated, this book is a reminder that continuous agitation outside of electoral politics is a crucial mechanism for pushing the policy agenda of minority groups."
    Fredrick Harris, Columbia University

    "The Political Power of Protest is a welcome addition to scholarship on the question of how social protest impacts the state. Rather than focusing narrowly on the effect of protest on policy, this ambitious book expands our scholarly horizons by also focusing on its effect on judicial and presidential outcomes. Gillion’s novel and masterful analysis of data on protest and these various outcomes pushes this literature in new and exciting directions. This is a 'must-read' book for scholars interested in the effects of social movements on the policy process and other state outcomes. But it will also be of interest to sociologists and political scientists interested in how lawmakers interpret signals about their constituents’ wishes. Finally, it should also be of interest to scholars of minority politics who are interested in the mechanisms by which minority rights legislation is passed."
    Sarah A. Soule, Stanford University

    "Gillion tackles a large question in a slim volume: "Do protest actions truly influence the behavior of public official?" The research presented in this book shows that government action at the national level can be influenced by minority group protests … Summing up: recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research and professional collections."
    J. D. Rausch, Choice

    "… illuminating and persuasive, and his examination of the Supreme Court’s responses to minority protests is especially innovative."
    Allan J. Lichtman, Journal of American History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107031142
    • length: 210 pages
    • dimensions: 216 x 140 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.42kg
    • contains: 18 b/w illus. 6 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A continuum of information: the influence of minority political protest
    2. Measuring information in minority protest
    3. Viewing minority protest from the hill: the response from an individual and collective body of Congress
    4. Knocking on the president's door: the impact of minority protest on presidential responsiveness
    5. Appealing to an unlikely branch: minority political protest and the Supreme Court
    6. Conclusion: settling protest dust and a future outlook on minority policies.

  • Author

    Daniel Q. Gillion, University of Pennsylvania
    Daniel Gillion is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests focus on racial and ethnic politics, political behavior, public opinion and the American presidency. Gillion's research has been published in several journals and books, including Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior, Electoral Studies and The Journal of Politics. Before joining the University of Pennsylvania's faculty, he was the distinguished provost fellow in the political science department at the University of Rochester, where he completed his PhD. He currently serves as the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar and the Ford Foundation Fellow at Harvard University.


    • Co-Winner of the 2014 Best Book Award, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section, American Political Science Association

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