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Political Research Exchange

Political Protest and the Economic Crisis in Cross-National Comparison

Sarah Cameron
University of Sydney
Sarah Cameron
University of Sydney

How did the global financial crisis—the greatest economic crisis since the depression of the 1930s—affect political protest? Existing approaches to explain protest behaviour lead to competing predictions as to how protest would have been affected by a major crisis. According to grievance theories, those most affected by the crisis would be mobilized to participate in protest following the crisis. Resource approaches, however, suggest that those better off in society, participate more in protest, due to the time, skills and resources required to take part. As more citizens faced material hardship during the crisis, this would lead to the prediction that participation would have declined following the crisis as fewer had the time and resources to protest. Third, the political opportunities approach would suggest that government policy responses to the crisis, rather than the crisis in and of itself, would mobilize protest. To test these hypotheses, individual level protest participation data from the World Values and European Values Studies is examined, alongside protest event data from the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS). The results show that individual level participation declined following the crisis, in countries affected to a greater extent, lending support to the resources model. Meanwhile analysis of protest events demonstrated that there were significant mobilizations in response to government policy responses. Economic crises may mobilize specific protest events, whilst depressing participation trends as a whole.
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