Does proximity to protest sites affect people's political attitudes?
Urban protests that involve occupying public spaces can be effective for conveying protesters' messages and gaining wider support, but it's thought that they may backfire if they severely disrupt the everyday lives of non-participants. A study published in The British Journal of Sociology found that after the Occupy Central Movement in Hong Kong, residents living near the occupied areas not only maintained their support for the pro-democracy camp but also became more liberal compared with faraway residents.
The authors of the study note that this phenomenon can be explained by the "on-site" effect, which suggests that direct exposure to protestors' solidarity and the repressive actions of authorities arouse bystanders' sympathy for the protestors and support for their political cause.
The effect appears to be long-lasting, as evidenced by local election results after the protest.
"As shown by our evidence, when a protest is perceived as legitimate, people are willing to tolerate temporary inconvenience caused by the disruptions, suggesting that people's political preferences are not always determined by their self-interests," said corresponding author Duoduo Xu, Ph.D., of The University of Hong Kong. "Findings from this study may help us to understand the profound influence that the Occupy Central Movement brought to Hong Kong's people and its political landscape and the reason for broader public support for the pro-democracy camp in recent years."
More information: In sight, in mind: Spatial proximity to protest sites and changes in peoples' political attitudes, British Journal of Sociology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/1468-4446.12988
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