Chenoweth and Stephan collected data on all violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 that resulted in the overthrow of a government or in territorial liberation. They created a data set of 323 mass actions. Chenoweth analyzed nearly 160 variables related to success criteria, participant categories, state capacity, and more. The results turned her earlier paradigm on its head—in the aggregate, nonviolent civil resistance was far more effective in producing change.
it really boils down to four different things. The first is a large and diverse participation that’s sustained.
The second thing is that [the movement] needs to elicit loyalty shifts among security forces in particular, but also other elites. Security forces are important because they ultimately are the agents of repression, and their actions largely decide how violent the confrontation with—and reaction to—the nonviolent campaign is going to be in the end. But there are other security elites, economic and business elites, state media. There are lots of different pillars that support the status quo, and if they can be disrupted or coerced into noncooperation, then that’s a decisive factor.
The third thing is that the campaigns need to be able to have more than just protests; there needs to be a lot of variation in the methods they use.
The fourth thing is that when campaigns are repressed—which is basically inevitable for those calling for major changes—they don’t either descend into chaos or opt for using violence themselves. If campaigns allow their repression to throw the movement into total disarray or they use it as a pretext to militarize their campaign, then they’re essentially co-signing what the regime wants—for the resisters to play on its own playing field. And they’re probably going to get totally crushed.
One of the things that isn’t in our book, but that I analyzed later and presented in a TEDx Boulder talk in 2013, is that a surprisingly small proportion of the population guarantees a successful campaign: just 3.5 percent. That sounds like a really small number, but in absolute terms it’s really an impressive number of people. In the U.S., it would be around 11.5 million people today. Could you imagine if 11.5 million people—that’s about three times the size of the 2017 Women’s March—were doing something like mass noncooperation in a sustained way for nine to 18 months? Things would be totally different in this country.
WCIA: Is there anything about our current time that dictates the need for a change in tactics?
CHENOWETH: Mobilizing without a long-term strategy or plan seems to be happening a lot right now, and that’s not what’s worked in the past. However, there’s nothing about the age we’re in that undermines the basic principles of success. I don’t think that the factors that influence success or failure are fundamentally different. Part of the reason I say that is because they’re basically the same things we observed when Gandhi was organizing in India as we do today. There are just some characteristics of our age that complicate things a bit.