Abstract: (Converted as ePoster, See Poster Gallery) Examining the Relationship between Assets and Civic Engagement: Evidence from the 2020 Protests (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

(Converted as ePoster, See Poster Gallery) Examining the Relationship between Assets and Civic Engagement: Evidence from the 2020 Protests

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Selina Miller, MSW, PhD Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, MO
C. Taylor Brown, MSW, Research Fellow, Washington University in Saint Louis
Stephen Roll, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: 2020 was a year of record protest participation in the United States, with over 10,600 protests occurring between May 22 and August 22, 2020 alone (Kishi & Jones, 2020). In the United States, protests represent a fundamental form of civic engagement and can be an important form of social justice advocacy. Moreover, evidence suggests that protests affect government policy decisions and electoral outcomes (Gillion and Soule 2018). As such, it is important to understand what factors predict participation in protest demonstrations. Though scholars have hypothesized that there is a link between individual asset ownership and civic engagement (Sherraden, 1991), there have been few empirical examinations of this relationship and none regarding protest participation specifically. Some researchers suggest that the effects of assets on civic engagement decisions may vary by type of assets and type of civic engagement (McBride, Sherraden, & Pritzker, 2004). To test this hypothesis, we use a novel survey administered around the height of the 2020 protests to assess the relationship between different asset classes and protest (i.e., informal civic engagement) behaviors.

Methods: The data analyzed in this study come from Wave 2 of the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (collected July 30-Sept 9; 5,033 respondents), which is administered through a large online panel provider and uses quota sampling to obtain a sample that approximates the characteristics of the United States population in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and income. We use both bivariate analysis and logistic regression techniques to examine whether liquid assets, investment assets, homeownership, and measures of deprivation predict participation in a protest between May and August 2020 (a period which saw many COVID-19-related protests and the height of the George Floyd protests). We also examine participation in specific types of protests, including racial justice/police violence protests and protests against COVID-19-related restrictions. In each of these models, we control for a series of demographic and financial variables, as well as material hardship, political ideology, and geography fixed effects.

Results: Increases in liquid assets are associated with a lower likelihood of protest participation, while measures of deprivation, such as material hardship and food insecurity, predict greater likelihood of protest participation. We also observe non-linear relationships between the amount of liquid and investment assets and civic engagement behaviors. These patterns are largely similar for both types of protests under study.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides nuance to the hypothesis that asset ownership increases civic engagement (Sherraden, 1991) by showing the opposite to be true in the case of protest participation, with some variation by type of assets. These results highlight the comparative economic vulnerability of protest participants. Thus, when government responses to protests include violence or arrest, these actions not only violate protest rights, but may also perpetuate existing economic hardship. Additionally, protest organizers may find opportunities to increase the individual well-being of those in their ranks, potentially through mutual aid relief or similar interventions.