No Reckoning for the Right: How Political Ideology, Protest Tolerance and News Consumption Affect Support Black Lives Matter Protests

Brown, Danielle K.; Mourão, Rachel R.
Political Communication

After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a flood of protest activity against racial injustice ensued around the world, and a significant uptick in support for Black Lives Matter followed. This study investigated the narratives produced in news coverage of Black Lives Matter protests and how media consumption and individual predispositions help us understand public support for the movement. Combining a content analysis of news about protests and a survey of people’s attitudes, we assessed if patterns in mainstream and partisan coverage have changed, and how those patterns relate to people’s level of support for the movement, assessment of its effectiveness, and of police response during demonstrations. Our findings suggest that persistent negative patterns of protest coverage continued to dominate news headlines, with a major emphasis on negative actions, disruption, and violence in centerist- and right-leaning media coverage from the Associated Press, CNN and Fox News. MSNBC produced the least coverage overall, but their coverage was most legitimizing. Survey results showed that preexisting attitudes remain consistently stronger determinants of support for the movement than media coverage and suggested a possible ideological asymmetry among the general public. Conservative affiliation and news consumption are strong predictors of less support for Black Lives Matter and perceptions of police response to these protests as too lenient. Mainstream news consumption, though producing predominantly delegitimizing coverage, is correlated with more support for Black Lives Matter.