The new paper, published in the journal Mobilization by Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, analyzes what the authors call “the demobilization of the antiwar movement in the United States” between 2007 and 2009. Based on interviews with over 5,000 demonstrators at nearly 30 major antiwar protests across the country over that two year period, the researchers conclude that the electoral success of the Democratic party in the elections of 2006 and 2008 led to the large-scale abandonment of the antiwar movement by Democrats, even despite the party’s failure to deliver on its antiwar promises . . .
The report concludes that, “the withdrawal of Democrats from the movement in 2009 appears to be a significant explanation for the falling size of antiwar protests.” The research team’s surveyors estimated that hundreds of thousands of individuals turned out for antiwar protests in early 2007 and dwindled to the hundreds by late 2009.
The report’s findings have prompted a number of mainstream media outlets to ask: “Whatever happened to the antiwar movement?” On April 15th, both NPR and the Wall Street Journal published articles posing that exact question. The piece at NPR noted that, “Now and then, small pockets of protesters still band together,” while the WSJ report stated that antiwar protests remain at about the levels common in late 2009, “drawing mere hundreds.”Read the rest for more details on the protests and the media's malfeasance. Here, let's take a closer look at the research paper itself, as it contains a fair amount of data on the partisan composition of the antiwar movement. The study finds that turnout fell as Democratic participation in antiwar protests plunged between 2007 and 2009, which they call the "demobilization of the antiwar movement". The authors explicitly contrast Democratic participation rates at antiwar protests with those of third party voters, pointing out that the two have an inverse relationship: as Democrats left the protest movement, it shrank, and the proportion of third party members at antiwar rallies increased considerably.
Remarkably, neither of these articles mentioned the fact that on the previous weekend, thousands of Americans had gathered in New York and San Francisco to protest the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya . . .
However, it fails to compare Democratic participation rates with those of Independents, i.e. protesters who refused to identify themselves with any party, or with Independents plus third party supporters combined. If you add the latter two together, you find that their numbers either rivaled or exceeded those of Democrats throughout the two year period the study considered. Except for a handful of the largest protests, Democrats rarely constituted the majority of the "antiwar movement" as it is defined in the study. The researchers also found that as Democratic participation in antiwar protests plunged from 2008 to 2009, turnout generally shrank from hundreds of thousands to hundreds and thousands, and the partisan composition shifted to 54% Independent, about 25% third party and 21% Democrat. Here's the partisan composition graph:
You'll notice that there are only three points at which the majority of antiwar protesters were Democrats, and even in those instances, their majority was slim. At the time of the largest protests covered by the study, when hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters were out in the streets in early 2007 and Democratic participation was highest, almost half of those who turned out were Independents and third party supporters. And Independents overtook the Democrats as the majority even before the Democrats disengaged following Obama's election.
The report's flaw is to be found in its equation of Democratic disengagement from the antiwar movement with the demobilization of the antiwar movement as such. As the protests earlier this month demonstrate, the antiwar movement is still mobilized enough to gather protesters by the thousands on both coasts. How can we explain this? It may well be that the study overestimates the effects of plunging Democratic participation on the antiwar movement because it does not consider changes in partisan affiliation, specifically, the growth of Independent identification and the fall of Democratic affiliation.
According to Pew Research, Independents and Democrats were roughly in parity in 2007 (34% to 33% respectively). In 2008 Democratic party identification rose in the run-up to the presidential election, as Independent identification fell and Republican affiliation held steady. But then in 2009 Democratic and Republican affiliation fell, leading to an Independent plurality of 39% I, 33% D and 22% R. In other words, Independent identification surged following Obama's election, at least in part because a nontrivial number of Democrats declared their independence from the party. The Pew graph:
What the study calls the "demobilization of the antiwar movement" is actually just evidence of the betrayal of the antiwar movement by the Democratic party. In accord with their electoral strategy, the Democrats just "moved on" from their previous concerns following Obama's election. They wasted no time in betraying antiwar activists once they had successfully hijacked the movement. But the antiwar movement moved on too. It continued to exist and is still mobilized, as this month's protests and the new antiwar coalitions demonstrate. There are just very few Democrats in it, since the Democratic party supports the wars. But that doesn't mean the antiwar movement isn't millions strong. A majority of Americans no longer support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
This flaw in the study might also be indicated by the failure of its predictive and explanatory power, as evidenced in the conclusions drawn by NPR and the Wall Street Journal in blissful ignorance of the previous weekend's antiwar mobilizations. National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal considered its findings and provided their readers with a eulogy for the antiwar movement. They should at least have suspected that the news of its death was greatly exaggerated.
The study makes for interesting reading and is only about 15 pages long, here's a pdf, if you're interested in checking it out. I'll probably come back to it in the coming days, as it contains a couple other points worth teasing out, and might allow us to draw some speculative conclusions about the future of the tea party.