After a widespread Internet blackout, SOPA/PIPA—legislation that could shut down entire websites if they enable copyright infringement—underwent a dramatic one-day change in its vote tally. In a time of rising gridlock, what features of the SOPA/PIPA debate enabled it to translate a popular outcry into a victory for opponents of the legislation?
No political deal was needed. Most big issues—like the debt— require Republicans and Democrats to accept something they don’t like. For SOPA/PIPA, vocal voter disapproval could lead a legislator to change his/her vote without having to accept a politically unpalatable compromise.
Defending the status quo. The apparent defeat of SOPA/PIPA was not a positive legislative victory—it was victory by killing a bill.
The makeup of supporters and opponents. The majority of supporters were Democrats with ties to the entertainment industry, while the widespread Internet response likely cut across ideological lines. Republican quickly lined up against it, while undecided Democrats gave in to public pressure.
While clearly not exactly the same as the big issues paralyzed by gridlock, it is at least heartening to know that elected officials still respond to an active and vocal electorate. What lessons might be gleaned from the SOPA/PIPA episode to spur action on a positive legislative agenda?