Attitudes Toward Social Movement Tactics (Part 2 Of 4)
Every year, the Faunalytics conducts the Animal Tracker survey to determine attitudes and beliefs regarding issues of relevance to animal advocates. In Wave 1 of this study, conducted in 2008, we asked over 1,500 people the following question: “Social and political movements use a variety of tactics to create change for their issues. In general, how much do you support or oppose each of the following tactics?” We asked specifically about the following tactics: anti-cruelty investigations, using media to reach the public, speaking in schools, filling lawsuits to protect animals, state ballot initiatives lobbying government officials, calling for product boycotts, and demonstrating or protesting.
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The results of this question indicate that people typically approve of most mainstream social movement tactics. No tactic received disapproval from more than one-third of respondents. The only tactic that received support from less than 50% of the respondents was demonstrating or protesting (48% support), with calling for product boycotts receiving support from about the same proportion of respondents (51%).
Looking at what types of tactics received more support, a trend appears. Those tactics that favored education efforts received the most support. Anti-cruelty investigations, media outreach, and speaking in schools are all aimed at educating individuals. Education campaigns are based on the premise that if cruelty is exposed (via investigations or the media) and people are given access to that information (via the media and talks or educational outreach), then people will make good choices. U.S. society, broadly, values individuals’ rights and ability to make the best choices for themselves and their families and these tactics align nicely with those ideas.
Tactics working within established governing institutions, namely our legal system and government, received less support than educational efforts but more than more direct and confrontational tactics. These tactics don’t “rock the boat,” but may be perceived as less useful since they require a huge amount of resources to be successful. For example, to get a measure a state ballot a lot of person-power and fiscal resources are needed. The initial language needs to be drafted by experts, advertising and outreach campaigns need to be executed and developed and lots of activists have to hit the streets and collect signatures.
Tactics receiving the least amount of support were the more confrontational tactics of boycotts, demonstrations, and protests. A lack of support for these tactics may be because they are generally more disruptive. Further, they can have negative consequences for individuals such a business owners or passers by who are disrupted by protest activity. At the same time, the lack of support for these tactics surprised me. Social movement leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are valorized in our culture. Both of these men and their movements relied heavily on protests and one of King’s most famous campaigns was the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Unfortunately, we are unable to ascertain from these surveys why people do or do not support a given tactic. Lack of public support for a given tactic does not necessarily mean that tactic is less effective, of course, but it may reflect the perception that some tactics are not effective rather than just a belief that they are socially inappropriate. In the next post, I will discuss empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of “shock advocacy,” one type of tactic utilized in the animal protection movement.