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Which Identity Frames Boost Support for and Mobilization in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement? An Experimental Test

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2020

Northwestern University
Northwestern University
Tabitha Bonilla, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Social Policy and Political Science (by courtesy) and Faculty Fellow Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University,
Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies (by courtesy),


The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has organized hundreds of disruptive protests in American cities since 2013 (Garza 2014; Harris 2015; Taylor 2016). The movement has garnered considerable attention from the U.S. media and is well recognized by the U.S. public (Horowitz and Livingston 2016; Neal 2017). Social movement scholars suggest that such robust mobilizations are typically predicated on clear social movement frames (Benford and Snow 2000; Snow et al. 1986). Tillery (2019b) has identified several distinct message frames within the social media communications of BLM activists. In this paper, we use a survey experiment to test the effect of three of these frames—Black Nationalist, Feminist, and LGBTQ+ Rights—on the mobilization of African Americans. We find that exposure to these frames generates differential effects on respondents’ willingness to support, trust, canvass, and write representatives about the Black Lives Matter movement. These findings raise new questions about the deployment of intersectional messaging strategies within movements for racial justice.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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We are grateful to Sky Patterson for research assistance. We would like to thank Professor Pearl Dowe (Emory University), Valeria Sinclair-Chapman (Purdue University), Daniel Gillion (University of Pennsylvania) for insightful comments on an earlier draft of the paper. We also thank Fernandes Tormos-Aponte (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) and Valeria Sinclair-Chapman (Purdue University) for organizing, hosting, and inviting us to participate in a mini-conference on social movements and intersectionality at SPSA 2020. We also thank all participants for their helpful feedback. Finally, we thank the three anonymous reviewers and the previous APSR editors, Professor Thomas Koenig and Professor Ken Benoit, for pushing us to significantly improve this paper through the review process. Replications files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:


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Which Identity Frames Boost Support for and Mobilization in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement? An Experimental Test
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Which Identity Frames Boost Support for and Mobilization in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement? An Experimental Test
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Which Identity Frames Boost Support for and Mobilization in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement? An Experimental Test
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