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Protest Wave or Protest Spike?

An Examination of European Protest Activity, 2008–2012

Matthew Schoene

Abstract

Recent scholarly attention has designated European protest activity from 2011 to 2013 a “protest wave,” a term with specific sociological meaning. While many European countries indeed experienced a period of unrest, I argue that for protest activity to be considered a wave, the protest in question must be significantly higher than normative levels of participation. To this end, I conceptualize national protest culture as an explanatory factor for recent protest activity. Using the European Social Survey, a series of multilevel mixed effects regression models for 22 countries demonstrates that the most powerful predictor of protest in 2012 is the protest rate for each country in 2008. I therefore question this period’s designation as a protest wave and instead choose to refer to it as a set of discrete protest spikes.

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Matthew Schoene

Institutional distrust has become a pervasive element of global society in general and European society in particular. Concurrently, participation in institutions is also declining, raising concerns about the effectiveness of civil society. Distrust of institutions like the political, education, legal-judicial, and law enforcement systems is linked to declining participation in mainstream political behaviors like voting, but it is unclear how individuals’ trust of and participation in certain institutions affects social movement activity and participation in protest. Here, I use recent European protest movements to better understand the link between institutional distrust, institutional participation, and social protest. Using the 7th wave of the European Social Survey, I construct several multilevel mixed-effects logistic regressions predicting participation in four forms of protest: signing petitions, boycotting products, wearing protest badges, and participating in demonstrations. It turns out that, while institutional distrust is moderately and positively linked to certain forms of protest, those who partake in mainstream political institutions are far more likely to participate in all forms of protest.