Penn prof discusses effect of racial protests on voter turnout. Does his theory hold water?

A Penn professor discussed voter turnout and political effects of racial justice protests during Penn’s annual “Lecture on Diversity.”

It is unclear whether the professor’s narrative about racial protests and Democratic support holds water, as Republican candidates earned larger shares of minority votes in the 2020 election.

During the annual Provost’s Lecture on Diversity at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Daniel Gillion discussed the impact of protesting in the American political system. 

Gillion, a political science professor, shared his research on the increasingly partisan nature of protests — in particular, the fact that Americans view them as increasingly partisan, and their tangible effects on voter turnout.

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Gillion described his experience of protesting in 1995 as a child, and how it piqued his interest in political protest, which he now maps in the United States using computer programming and other means.

He explained that protesting has the ability “to increase the saliency” of an issue. Pointing to the incidents involving George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, Gillion said that without protests, individuals “lull their conscience” to instances of alleged bias.

Gillion discussed the impact that political protests have on Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court, which is more likely to take cases that “revolve around racial and ethnic minority concerns” following mass protest movements.

In geographic areas with substantial protest movements, Republican candidates tend to lose six percent of votes, while Democrats gain 2 percent.

Gillion also addressed the counter-protest movements, such as those utilizing the phrase “white lives matter,” saying they are  “bringing their thoughts to action… in a less overt fashion.” However, he is concerned about white supremacy organizations that push their ideas overtly.

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In 2016, voters who had “vitriol” toward Black Lives Matter did not go to the polls, while those in support of the movement were far more likely to vote.

In discussing the reactions to protest movements, Gillion said that “the myth of the silent majority just is simply that: a myth.” 

In the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and Republican candidates gained considerably larger shares of the African-American and Hispanic votes in comparison to the 2016 election, raising questions as to whether Gillion’s theory holds about Democratic turnout increases amid racial protests holds water. 

While it is true that Democratic voter turnout increased in 2020, Republican voter turnout also increased. President Donald Trump, for example, received at least 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016, including significantly more votes from African American and Hispanic voters.

Campus Reform reached out to Gillion for further comment but did not receive a response.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft