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Capture or Be Captured: Movement-Party Relationships and the 2016 Presidential Election

  • Author(s): Brooker, Megan E.
  • Advisor(s): Meyer, David S.
  • et al.
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Abstract

When and how are social movements incorporated by political parties and presidential candidates? This dissertation uses content analysis of electoral, party, and movement documents to examine movement-party relationships during and following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I first explore two major electoral cleavages – race and LGBTQ rights – and compare the success of movements of the political left and right (Black Lives Matter and white nationalism; LGBTQ Rights and the Christian Right) in shaping party agendas. I show how factors including the political environment, field of primary candidates, and movement actions all shaped movements’ differential levels of electoral incorporation. In doing so, I challenge traditional theoretical understandings of the political process by showing how social movements encourage candidates to amplify radical ideas, rather than moderate their political appeals. Black Lives Matter’s active engagement along the campaign trail compelled the Democratic candidates to pay attention to movement concerns. White nationalists recognized a political goldmine as Donald Trump’s contentious rhetoric on immigration became a cornerstone of his campaign and marked an opening for their movement to reassert its political presence on the national stage. Following the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, both the Christian Right and LGBTQ Rights movements renegotiated their relationships within parties. While the Christian Right used its leverage within the Republican Party coalition to reframe political debate around religious liberty, the LGBTQ Rights movement faced electoral capture as they struggled to exert similar control over the Democratic Party agenda. I then examine post-electoral mobilization, explaining how the electoral outcome generated a new movement organization – Indivisible. I use Indivisible’s emergence to highlight the process through which activists alternate their participation between institutional and extrainstitutional channels. Indivisible’s founders, who had previously worked as Democratic Congressional staffers, sought to maximize their political influence by mobilizing a grassroots base. The 2016 presidential election offers a window into a shifting electoral process in which competitive primary contests and the pressure of organized interests can steer political parties toward the political extremes.

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This item is under embargo until September 30, 2020.