New Study Reveals 85% of Americans Participated in Cultural Protests Last Year

The majority of respondents also 'boycotted' brands

There’s a far scarier aspect to all of this, too: Hate groups are on the rise. Backslash

It’s been just over a year since an estimated 7 million people around the world came together in a movement known as the Women’s March, publicly rallying for human rights surrounding immigration, healthcare, race, LGBTQ equality and many more.

While the Women’s March was arguably the most visible such event of its time, a new study from TBWA Worldwide’s cultural editorial unit, Backslash, reveals that a wave of quieter protests have been happening every day, largely thanks to social media.

The study, which was conducted in partnership with research firm Hall & Partners, found that 85 percent of Americans participated in loosely defined protests last year.

“Today we are all activists. On many sides. Every day. We call it pan-activism,” Sarah Rabia, Backslash global director of cultural strategy, said in the study.

The study and accompanying video detail the findings and attempt to explain the phenomenon.

Essentially, with protests big and small becoming easier to access (the study claims the act of watching the Golden Globes can be considered a form of activism), and with the country more polarized than ever before (73 percent of respondents agree), Americans now feel an increasing need to defend their beliefs. This is true whether they’re part of a marginalized population or a majority group.

The study, which surveyed 2,199 individuals, found that activist events in various forms rose by 30 percent in 2017. For example, 37 percent of Americans took action by donating to victims of tragedies. In a finding that will be of particular interest to marketers, 35 percent supported local brands that align with their beliefs.

“It has never been easier to be an activist,” the study reads. “Be it a Facebook rainbow filter, a pink-pussy hat or an Ariana Grande tribute concert, the combined forces of technology, entertainment and fashion have opened the floodgates to more people taking action at a swipe.”

That’s both a blessing and a curse to marketers. The study said Americans are using brands as “a new battlefield,” giving them flack whether they engage in political discourse (55 percent of men with annual incomes of $100,000 or higher “boycotted” a company last year that expressed differing views) or stayed silent, the latter of which can be seen as complicity.

There’s a far scarier aspect to all of this, too.

The number of hate groups in the U.S., including those described as anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and neo-Nazi, more than doubled from 1999 to 2017, according to the study. The most significant rise was in anti-Muslim groups, which reportedly spiked 197 percent from 2016 to 2017 alone. Research also showed that only 18 percent of Americans surveyed last year said they “supported immigrants.”

Because of the divisive nature of politics and hot button cultural topics, nearly half (48 percent) of all participants said they took action for their own well-being.

Still, while many in the U.S. are increasingly fighting across party lines, the study found a silver lining of hope for humanity: Last year, 45 percent of Americans made a point to enter a dialogue with someone who has differing views. Over a quarter (26 percent) also said they took actionable steps to understand another’s beliefs.

Below is the full study, which debuts at Social Media Week in New York City later today:

@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.