One Year After the Women's March on Washington, People are Still Protesting en Masse. A lot. We've Counted
Erica Chenoweth is a professor and associate dean for research in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She has taught at the University of Denver since 2012. Chenoweth's areas of research includes political violence, terrorism, counterterrorism and homeland security, repression, civil resistance, nonviolent action, protest, and international security.
Each month the Crowd Counting Consortium has been posting updates about trends and patterns on political crowds in the United States as recorded by our volunteers. (For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series.)
The Crowd Counting Consortium is one year old. Since the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, we have recorded more than 8,700 protests in the United States through Dec. 31, 2017. This map gives a sense of the geographic and ideological distribution of the crowds. About 74 percent of those protests were either against Trump administration policy or on issues that conflicted with the president’s viewpoint, such as protests against specific police shootings of black people. We assuredly did not learn about every protest. Given the information we had, however, we made a low and a high estimate of all the participants in all the protests we counted, giving us a range of between 5.9 million and 9 million. That’s roughly 1.8 to 2.8 percent of the population of the United States, with about 5.2 million to 8 million of those turning out to oppose Trump’s policies or points of view.
We’ll call this group “the resistance,” because in many cases that’s how they see themselves: as a movement opposed to the current government.
What can our data tell us about the United States under Donald Trump?
1. Protests are persistent.
The Women’s March by itself brought out between 1 percent and 1.6 percent of the U.S. population on Jan. 21, 2017. Since then, we’ve seen a reasonably stable number of mass mobilizations. The largest single-day demonstrations, bringing out tens of thousands of people each, included the airport protests against President Trump’s proposed immigration ban; the Day Without an Immigrant; the Day Without Women; the March for Science; the March for Truth; LGBTQ pride marches, which may or may not have been larger this year (we don’t have comparative data); protests and rallies to protect the Affordable Care Act; gatherings to protest white supremacist violence in Charlottesville; and protests against the GOP tax bill.
Since Trump’s inauguration, protests have occurred every day somewhere in the country. California and New York had the highest number of events, with 952 and 562 respectively. But Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida had the next highest number of events, with 401, 387, and 379 events respectively. This is notable because Trump won pluralities in these states during the 2016 election. Moreover, there were some surprises among red states with noticeably higher ranks in protest events compared with total state population. For instance, Alaska had 96 events, making it 28th in number of protests despite being 48th in population size. We should remember that no state is all red or all blue; every state contains at least some pockets of opposition to the prevailing political winds in that state.
The number and size of protests remained fairly stable month to month, except for dips in activity in September and October. But April and June saw more than 950 and 818 protests as well as between 637,198 and 1,181,887 participants, and December 2017 involved more protesters than in the previous month. Despite murmurs of protest fatigue, the data suggest that the so-called resistance is actually resilient.
2. There is a small, albeit visible, movement for Trump.
About 7 percent of the crowds we recorded came together to support the president and his policies. High-attendance examples included rallies Trump held for himself, along with high-profile events like the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
However, most pro-Trump rallies and events were met by counterprotests, whose numbers often exceeded the pro-Trump contingent. Even in Charlottesville, for instance, observers estimated that there were twice as many anti-racist activists as Unite the Right followers. And on Feb. 11, when between 5,200 and 6,100 protesters turned out nationwide to call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, counterprotesters were almost universally on hand — between 30,000 and 39,000 in total — to defend funding for Planned Parenthood in response.
3. Protesters are overwhelmingly nonviolent.
While the media offer more coverage of the occasional violent protest, the overwhelming majority of crowds engaged in nonviolent resistance. We find only 294 injuries and one death (of Heather Heyer in the Charlottesville car attack) during protests the entire year, fewer than 0.000005 percent of those who protested. Only 39 incidents involved reports of property damage — less than 0.5 percent of protests in 2017.
Of course, some nonviolent protests were nevertheless highly disruptive. Those included highway shutdowns, sit-ins and die-ins, and human barricades, and resulted in more than 2,300 arrests. For example, disabilities activists — many in wheelchairs — occupied U.S. Senate buildings to demand that GOP senators withdraw their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Capitol police arrested dozens.
The nonviolent approach may be key in explaining the large numbers of people who showed up. One of us, Erica Chenoweth, has done research with Maria J. Stephan that suggests people are more likely to participate in movements with public protests when the methods are visible and easy for people to participate in regardless of their levels of experience and their tolerance for risk. This is why nonviolent methods tend to be more gender-, age-, and ability-inclusive. And the more people who participate, the less risky it is for each individual to participate — which tends to bring out still more people in a self-reinforcing cycle. That’s why the average nonviolent resistance campaign has so many more active participants than the average armed rebel movement, for instance.
4. ‘The resistance’ is diverse
Political crowds opposing Trump or his policies in 2017 included actions by ADAPT, Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, Indivisible, the Standing Rock Sioux, UltraViolet, a Sister March inside an assisted living facility in Encinitas, Calif., a comedy troupe in Chicago that organized a mass mooning of Trump Tower, and a group of elementary school students who organized a Kindness March. Sometimes national organizations – like the Women’s March — prompted or even organized local activity. But many of these actions appear to be independent and not coordinated with one another; organizers and activists are organizing locally, and then responding to national calls for action.
Again drawing from Chenoweth and Stephan’s research, we know that that’s how mass movements succeed: They tend to coalesce around shared grievances and claims, expand their numbers and thereby increase their collective leverage, and build political power.
Of course, doing this can be tricky. Local groups will have competing interests and different levels of commitment. That makes building and maintaining a unified coalition a key challenge for those who want to build a movement. Often it is easier for movements to mobilize in opposition than to mobilize in support. So far, the opposition to Trump’s agenda seems unifying enough.
You can download the data here. We’ll release the data for January 2018 soon. In the meantime, we are still counting. Click here to submit information about a protest, and click here to volunteer to help us count.