The Great Depression and the Great Recession in the United States both saw upsurges of social movement activity and newspaper coverage, but why did movements of both the right and left surge during the leftwing regimes of these periods? Why did the Barack Obama administration not produce the lasting leftwing mobilizations characteristic of the Franklin Roosevelt era? To address these questions and locate these episodes in historical perspective, we elaborate a political reform model, a macro-political theory that explains variance in movement presence. At its core, the political reform model holds that highly partisan political regimes and policy enactments interact to spur the presence of movements. We illustrate the argument and place these episodes in historical perspective with data from the Political Organizations in the News Project on all national movement organizations appearing in four major newspapers across 115 years. Historical analyses indicate that all periods of right or left partisan dominance, including leftwing partisanship under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and Republican dominance in the 1920s and 1980s, induced waves of movement coverage, regardless of whether there was an economic crisis. Comparisons across movements in similar periods indicate that those with advances in policy boosted their long-term attention. We find lasting leftwing mobilizations occurred more extensively in the wake of the Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson eras because of their greater policy achievements.

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