Ryan Enos, Aaron Kaufman, and Melissa Sands
Forthcoming at American Political Science Review
Abstract: Violent protests are dramatic political events often credited with causing significant changes in public policy.
Scholarly research usually treats violent protests as deliberate acts, undertaken in pursuit of specific policy goals. However, due to a lack of appropriate data and difficulty in causal identification, there is little evidence of whether riots accomplish these goals. We collect unique electoral measures of policy support before and after the 1992 Los Angeles Riot—one of the most high-profile events of political violence in recent American history—which occurred just prior to an election. Contrary to some expectations from the academic literature and the popular press, we find that the riot caused a liberal shift in policy support at the polls. Investigating the sources of this shift, we find that it was likely the result of increased mobilization of both African American and white voters. Remarkably, this mobilization endures over a decade later.