Daniel Q. GillionJun 10, 2020
The Loud Minority
Why Protests Matter in American Democracy
Princeton University Press 2020
Political Scientist Daniel Q. Gillion’s new book, The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2020) is an incredibly topical and important analysis of the connection between protests and the influence this public activism has on the voting electorate. Tracing the idea of the “silent majority” from Richard Nixon’s characterization of his supporters in the 1960s through to contemporary uses of the term in the 2016 campaign by then-candidate Donald Trump, Gillion examines the construction of this binary framework, that there is a silent majority at home and a vocal minority in the streets, making noise; he also argues that the idea of the silent majority might not apply in our current polarized political world.
The Loud Minority brings together a variety of disciplinary perspectives to examine protests—weaving together research and analysis from sociology, history, and political science to more fully understand the protests themselves, but to also get at the impacts that protests have, on politicians and elected officials, on donations to campaigns and candidates, on voting behavior, and on policy implementation and shifts in policy directions. Gillion finds that voters are influenced by protests and activism, especially when it happens in close proximity to them. In a way that may be more useful than other information streams, protests provide the electorate with a kind of shorthand that they can then use to connect policy and political actors. Because of the acute partisan polarization within the American political system, protests fit into ideological bends, as Gillion notes in the interview, the protests themselves are linked to one another through the emphasis or policy thrust of the individual protest and the overarching umbrella under which it may be classified. This linkage then becomes a broader scope for voters to use to assess the records of candidates and elected officials on specific concerns.
Gillion is exploring the question, throughout the book, of whether protests work and if so, how do they work? The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy also explains that the answer to the question is not a simple one, necessarily, that the outcome of the protest may not be singular or even initially assessible. This research helps us to understand the potential impact of the many protests we are seeing all around us in the United States (and beyond), while guiding us through the myriad ways that protests act—they are not simple the hours of marching or demonstrating, but the ripples and ramifications of those marches, as the electorate observes and responds, by donating, by voting, by becoming involved in the community, by joining in subsequent protests. Protests are, according to Gillion, “the canaries in the coal mines that warn of future political and electoral change.” Understanding the connection between protests and their influence on the electorate helps us to better understand democracy.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).