Many observers expected major protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week – and were surprised by how few they found. But there were plenty of protests at this week’s Democratic National Convention. Groups associated with Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, the Green Party (and other parties) and of course Sen. Bernie Sanders all made themselves heard in Philadelphia.
After last week’s convention in Cleveland, our team traveled to Philadelphia to survey the crowds at events outside the convention. (For information on how we surveyed the crowds see our previous post.) Here are four things to note about what we found.
1. The Democratic Party was the target.
At the Republican convention, activists were either there for personal reasons, such as expressing solidarity with other protesters, or trying to change the minds of the U.S. public.
By contrast, at the Democratic convention, activists were targeting those inside the hall. A plurality of respondents, 29 percent, said they were there to pressure the party into changing the nominee; 20 percent wanted to pressure politicians in general.
We also compared responses before and after the formal nomination of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Afterward, respondents were less likely to report that they were there to change the nominee and became more likely to declare that they were there to show solidarity with those who were protesting or oppressed groups.
2. Activists saw the political system, not just Hillary Clinton, as corrupt.
Although activists and individuals said their goal was to change the nominee, their concerns were broader than just the selection of Hillary Clinton. The number one issue, by far, that they told us motivated them to protest at the Democratic convention was the belief that politics had become corrupt and controlled by moneyed interests.
Behind that issue came concerns about the environment, our “other” category that often included capitalism or society-wide concerns, and Clinton as the nominee.
3. Even more Philadelphia protesters were from outside the state – and from farther away — than in Cleveland.
The Democratic convention protesters came from farther away than did those at the Republican gathering. Seventy-three percent of respondents came from states that did not border Pennsylvania, compared with 43 percent who came to Cleveland from outside Ohio. Only 20 percent of them came from Philadelphia or the surrounding suburbs for the Democratic convention. At the Republican convention, 33 percent came from Cleveland.
We believe that the small turnout from locals is the reason protests were small. Only so many people are willing to travel for protests; without local presence, protests are necessarily limited.
4. The police presence in Phildelphia was radically different from that in Cleveland
At protest marches in Cleveland, the police wore heavy body armor. They followed closely behind and used their bikes to block the side streets at every intersection to prevent marchers from changing their routes. In Philadelphia, by contrast, the police rarely had any body armor on and mainly followed behind marches in a handful of squad cars. Further, all of the police at the Democratic convention were from the Philadelphia area, while at the Republican convention police were brought in from across the country.
In Cleveland the police presence felt overwhelming at times, with officers moving quickly in on any relatively larger groups of people. In Philadelphia, we could easily forget at times that the police were there at all.
Shan-Jan Sarah Liu will start teaching in the department of government at Smith College this fall.
Patricia Posey is a PhD student in the department of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kevin Reuning is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of political science at the Pennsylvania State University.
They would like to thank the Pennsylvania State University, in particular the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, Dr. Lee Ann Banaszak, and Dr. John D. McCarthy, and the University of Pennsylvania, especially Dr. Daniel Gillion, for the financial support to make this research possible.