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How Effective Is Nonviolent Resistance at Bringing Change?

Updated May 17, 2024
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It pays to be peaceful in politics. Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, examined the outcomes of hundreds of protest movements and found that peaceful campaigns are much more successful in achieving political change than violent ones.

Chenoweth and fellow researcher Maria Stephan collected information from more than 300 protests, both violent and nonviolent, and came to some surprising conclusions.

Besides the fact that nonviolent protests led to change 53% of the time, compared to 26% for violent campaigns, they also learned that if 3.5% of a given population participates in a campaign, it is virtually guaranteed to succeed.

"There weren’t any campaigns that had failed after they had achieved 3.5 percent participation during a peak event," Chenoweth said. Examples include the end of the Marcos regime in 1986 in the Philippines, the removal of Eduard Shevardnadze as the president of Georgia in 2003, and the resignations of Algeria and Sudan's presidents in 2019.

Fighting the good fight:

  • According to the Global Peace Index, civil unrest rose by 10 percent in 2020, with at least some caused by the Covid pandemic and fears of instability.

  • As of 2020, peacefulness around the world has decreased for 15 consecutive years, according to the index.

  • Between 2011 and 2018, the world experienced 4,700 nonviolent protests and 2,200 violent protests.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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