This paper is an exploration of various political environmental conditions associated with the incidence of political protest activities directed toward urban institutions, agencies, and officials in 43 American cities.
Two preliminary questions are considered first. One deals with making explicit the theoretical linkage between elements in the political environment and political behavior. The other is an attempt to define protest technically and to differentiate it from political violence. This effort is made necessary by the facts that violence and protest are not treated in the literature as distinct forms of behavior (but rather as similar acts at different points on a continuum of aggressiveness) and that studies of collective violence in American ghettos indicate no relation between environment and rioting.
Two alternative hypotheses are considered: protest varies negatively with indicators of an open political system (a linear model) and protest is greatest in systems characterized by a mix of open and closed factors (a curvilinear model). Data are drawn from newspaper accounts of protest incidents in 43 cities over a six month period in 1968, producing a sample of 120 protest incidents.
Both the simple incidence of protest and the intensity of protest seem to fit the curvilinear model more closely than the linear one. The incidence of protest, then, seems to signify change not only among previously quiescent or conventionally oriented groups but also in the political system itself as it becomes more open and responsive.