Study: Protests help pass environmental laws

Taking to the streets to demonstrate and protest is more effective than working inside the system to influence the passage of pro-environmental legislation in the United States, according to a new study analyzing the impact of the environmental movement. The study also found that a pro-environmental bill has a much better chance of being approved by Congress when Democrats are the majority party, but contrary to public perception, a bill’s odds of passage actually decrease slightly under a Democratic president.

From University of Washington:
Protests more help in passing environmental laws than working on ‘inside’

Taking to the streets to demonstrate and protest is more effective than working inside the system to influence the passage of pro-environmental legislation in the United States, according to a new study analyzing the impact of the environmental movement.
The study also found that a pro-environmental bill has a much better chance of being approved by Congress when Democrats are the majority party, but contrary to public perception, a bill’s odds of passage actually decrease slightly under a Democratic president.

The findings come from an analysis of 406 pro-environmental bills passed by Congress between 1960 and 1994 conducted by Jon Agnone, a University of Washington sociology doctoral student. He will discuss his research today (Aug. 17) at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association at the Hilton San Francisco Hotel.

His research also found that:

?Public opinion alone has little impact on the passage of pro-environmental legislation. Politicians are only responsive to public opinion on the environment when protests direct their attention toward such concerns.

?The overwhelming majority of environmental laws are passed during congressional election years.

?Nearly 80 percent of pro-environmental legislation is introduced in Congress by Democrats.

Agnone’s research looked at how social movements and public opinion interact to affect public policy. He examined the impacts of working inside and outside the institutions of government. Working inside the system, which is how business is generally conducted in Washington, D.C., includes lobbying, petitions, voter-registration campaigns and court cases. Working outside the system includes protests and marches, sit-ins and boycotts.

”Contrary to conventional wisdom, working from the inside has not had much of an impact and, in general, public opinion doesn’t matter,” he said. ”Most people say they are for the environment and lawmakers say, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ but they don’t do anything unless people start protesting. Protests amplify public opinion by directing politicians’ attention to the public’s interest.”

Agnone found that Congress seems to be more amenable to passing environmental legislation during election years. This is because voters typically pay more attention to what their representatives are doing and politicians can use a pro-environment voting record to help get re-elected.

The actual impact of individual protest acts on whether legislation passes is relatively small, with each protest event that occurs in a given year increasing the number of pro-environmental bills passed by about 2.2 percent, Agnone said. That means in a year in which 20 protests occurred, about 44 percent more pro-environmental bills would be approved, he said. But that is a small increase compared to which party controls Congress and whether or not it is an election year. A piece of environmental legislation has a 75 percent better chance of passage when Democrats control both houses of Congress, according to the study, and a bill is more than 200 percent more likely to be passed in a congressional election year.

Agnone’s research was based on information from the U.S. Public Laws data file, part of a project conducted by the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at the University of Washington, as well as from the New York Times Annual Index, from which data on the number and types of environmental protests was drawn.

”Social movements do matter, sometimes. Politicians are responsive, but this happens by going to the streets, not by schmoozing elected officials,” he said.


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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