Counter-mobilization protest
Tobias Hage / Unsplash

Effects of Counter-Mobilization

Right-wing populist (RWP) movements have been on the rise in Western democracies. Outside of party politics, such movements regularly organize demonstrations against political elites and minority groups. At the same time, civil society coalitions have mobilized against these movements. Sebastian Hellmeier, researcher in the unit Transformations of Democracy, and Johannes Vüllers, Universität Duisburg-Essen, analyzed the effects of such counter-demonstrations on RWP protest activities using the example of the German Pegida movement and its opponents.

Their paper is based on two competing theoretical expectations. On the one hand, counter-mobilization could reduce mobilization because the original movement is less likely to achieve its goals (expected utility/costs). On the other hand, clashes and standoffs between opposing movements might facilitate mobilization through polarization and anger (identity/emotions).

Using a new city-level event dataset on street protests by the German Pegida movement and its opponents, the paper investigates the movement–countermovement dynamics.  Sebastian Hellmeier and Johannes Vüllers ask how counter-mobilization is associated with the onset of Pegida protests, their intensity in terms of participant numbers, and their demobilization. The result of their quantitative analyses shows counter-mobilization does not prevent protest onset, but large counter-demonstrations are associated with larger subsequent Pegida protests, and violence against Pegida supporters reduces the likelihood that they will stop protesting. While the results suggest that counter-mobilization is not effective at countering right-wing populism, they emphasize that it can still matter. Among other things, as a signal to political decision-makers.

June 21, 2021

Hellmeier, Sebastian/Johannes Vüllers (2021). "Does Counter-Mobilization Contain Right-wing Populist Movements? Evidence from Germany." (European Journal of Political Research) is freely available here.