The current craze of secession-minded petitions online may have its roots in the slumping stock market and accompanying pessimism.
A 2010 study from the Georgia-based Socionomics Institute, which studies social behavior, found that the country's negative social mood, reflected by downturns in the stock market, has correlated over time with pro-secession movements. The current push for secession, the institute notes, comes on the heels of the global economic recession.
"In 2009, you saw a huge crash, and a huge low in stock markets. These are pretty stunning events," says study author Alan Hall. "But the anger doesn't come out right away... There is a lag time on social expressions."
That lag time, he says, is usually six months to a year.
So it was in 2010, less than a year after the stock market crashed, that the secession talk began. In April of that year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about the possibility of secession and responded: "If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what may come out of that?" (Perry later said he misspoke and did not support secession.) The tea party, which sprung up in 2009, won a number of seats in the House the following year, another expression of anti-government sentiment. State-federal tensions rose around issues of immigration, marijuana and education.
Since 2010, the social mood has begun to improve, according to Hall's research. The stock market recovered and, until recently, was doing quite well. And yet the secession talk continues, with at least seven of the secession petitions filed on the government's "We the People" web site reaching the required 25,000 signatures to get a response from the White House.
Hall says the petitions are a reflection of the negative social mood that spanned the last decade. "Most people have spent the last 12 years going sideways," he says. "It's the question: 'Are you better off than you are 12 years ago?'" He notes that many Americans might answer: No.
But Hall also cautions the petitions may not be an indicator of serious discontent.
"The We the People web site has made registering these complaints much easier," he says. "And militia groups demanding secession would be a whole different thing than signing a petition online."
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