Panel Paper: Unfair Detention: How Protests Activated Group Empathy to Shift Attitudes on Child Detention

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 3 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Edward Vargas, Arizona State University, Loren Collingwood, University of California, Riverside and Jason Morin, California State University, Northridge

Much of the social movements literature rests on the assumption that protest events can shape public
opinion in ways consonant with movement actors’ goals. However, to date, little research has causally
investigated this underlying assumption. This question is important to evaluate because one can easily envision protest events producing null opinion effects, or even ‘undesirable’ opinion effects. We investigate
whether protest events can shape public opinion with a two-wave panel survey fielded just before and just
after the #familiesbelongtogether marches on June 30, 2018. We show: 1) Respondents in wave 2 were less
supportive of locking children in detention centers for more than a few hours than they were in wave 1; 2)
Individual-level attitude shifts were driven primarily by individual-level group empathy; 3) That media
imagery of children likely activated group empathy as an additional consideration for some respondents –
particularly Latino respondents – when structuring child detention attitudes; 4) Respondents living closer
to protest events were more affected relative to respondents farther away. Overall, we find strong evidence
that protests can shift public opinion in ways desirable of movement actors’ goals.