democrats killed the antiwar movement

Last year, I blogged about some research that Michael Heaney and I were doing on the anti-Iraq War movement. I found that the antiwar movement quickly collapsed after Obama’s election.  Smaller crowds, less attention. The big finding is that Democrats stopped showing up after Obama’s inauguration. Based  on 5, 398 surveys of street demonstrators, here’s the paper’s key chart:

In other words, once a Democrat gained power, Democrats stopped showing up to antiwar protests. If you want the full write up, read the paper, which has now appeared in Mobilization.

Bottom line: Social movements and parties rely on each other. Movements benefit when partisans appear because they can bolster their numbers. Parties use movements as platform for partisan grievances. But there’s a drawback, electoral victories mean that the rank and file will stop showing up.

Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2011 at 12:55 am

19 Responses

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  1. Great stuff. Fabio, do you know if anyone is doing similar research on the tea party movement?



    March 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm

  2. Congratulations, Fabio. This is exemplory scholarship.



    March 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

  3. @josh: I’ve got a guy working on the Tea Party at Indiana. I also understand there are a few other sociologists working on this topic.



    March 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

  4. fabio,

    have you done any data collection (either at protests or just web scraping) since we joined in the recent Libya thing?

    on my purely anecdotal/impressionistic basis this seems like a great case for the partisan effect you’re describing. sure, there are a few hardcore people (e.g., Kristol on one hand, Greenwald on the other) sticking to their typical shtick, but you see a lot fewer conservatives and a lot more liberals being enthusiastic about this than about other kinetic military actions.

    (of course as i am fond of reminding people, this effect also predates 9/11 — go back and watch the 2000 presidential debates about “readiness” and “nation-building”).

    fwiw, i don’t see switchers as completely cynical hacks, but as having an understandable tendency to allow their partisan loyalties and/or general feelings of trust with the respective presidents to highlight differences in the situations such as “we have learned the lessons of Iraq” or “the crucial distinction of having support from UNSC + Arab League.”


    gabriel rossman

    March 29, 2011 at 5:03 pm

  5. Awesome. It’d be cool if this graph were integrated into Figure 1, so that we could see absolute declines in the participation of all parties (if that is the case).

    As someone who was mobilized by the anti-war movement, I had a definite “what now?” moment after the 2008 election–obviously, I was prematurely declaring victory, but it’s hard to demonize your own guy. I found my answer in the financial crisis.



    March 29, 2011 at 5:08 pm

  6. […] news that will shock nobody at LRC, sociologists Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas found that Democrats stopped showing up at antiwar protests after Obama took over. Remember, wars […]


  7. The dramatic switch in the middle seems to be a mistake so “Democrat” and “No Party” are reversed. They fit the trends perfectly that way around. Now if we consider the “No Party” and “Republican” groups to be constant, you’ll see the numbers almost perfectly switch from “Democrats” to “No Party”.

    The antiwar left didn’t falter, they just lost faith in the Democrats.



    March 30, 2011 at 2:12 am

  8. Great post… right-leaning anti-war libertarian here. I stopped attending rallies during the Bush-era because I would inevitably get drawn into other arguments and be harangued by my fellow protesters about other differences. I feel like peace treaty’s need to be drawn up when protesting “together”! I too am disheartened at what has happened to the anti-war movement recently… it makes many of the rest of us who are anti-every-war look unserious. Obama on foreign policy is just Bush term 3… we need more protesters!



    March 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm

  9. Gabriel: Libya is recent! That’s instant-sociology.



    March 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm

  10. […] democrats killed the antiwar movement ( […]


  11. […] democrats killed the antiwar movement ( […]

    Like |

    March 31, 2011 at 6:28 am

  12. fabio,

    i know it’s recent but there are news polls and you could also do web scraping. anyway, something to keep in mind for the future as it seems like a very interesting case.



    March 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm

  13. […] Rojas studied the anti-war movement and found that it collapsed after Obama's election: Bottom […]


  14. […] once a Democrat gained power, Democrats stopped showing up to antiwar protests.” — Fabio Rojas, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University Share and Enjoy: These icons link to […]


  15. […] democrats killed the antiwar movement ( […]


  16. […] Dye of ABC news ran an article on our research showing how Democrats have abandoned the antiwar movement. A few choice clips: “Democratic departures left the antiwar movement fragmented and […]


  17. Wait. Are we talking about the same anti-war movement for which Commander-in-Chief Ronald Reagan signed E.O. 12333, which provided for the infiltration of political action groups “for the purpose of influencing the activity of” those groups? The anti-war movement imploded from within – that’s true. But it didn’t self-destruct because of Barack Obama. It’s been a strategic part of this military dictatorship’s arsenal for a long time – control the opposition is as old as Lao Tzu’s military strategies. This is why anti-war activists never stopped Reagan, George Bush, Sr., Clinton/NATO, George Bush, Jr. It’s why it hasn’t even attempted to stop the progression of imperialism in Afghanistan (and why it’s NEVER stood up to Congress and insisted it stop funding the state of Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians). It’s an extremely useful tool to our military dictatorship because its widespread support gives the illusion America is still an open society in which freedom to dissent is still possible when, in actuality, America is a closed, police state. And “research” such as this – complete with charts and graphs, even! – is precisely the type of propaganda Bush, Jr. said would be (a) never-ending, (b) of historic proportions and (c) part of his covert war all o er the world (making America an “elegant brand”).

    You’d better wake up, people. I’m their target today – but YOU are their target tomorrow:



    April 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm

  18. […] about this once their guy was elected and continued the same policies.  Sociologist Fabio Rojas found that attendance by Democrats at anti-war demonstrations fell by more than half after Obama was […]


  19. […] most notably during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Austin has fallen into the same troubling trend that the national peace movement has fallen victim to ever since Barack Obama was elected in 2008. […]


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