Taking to the Streets: Theory and Evidence on Protests under Authoritarianism
45 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 28 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 15, 2011
In the recent decades, citizens all over the world took to the streets to oppose predatory autocracies. We provide a theory of mass politics examining how civil protests affect authoritarian stability. We ask when mass protests are likely to spread and under what conditions they are likely to lead to authoritarian breakdown. The theory is based on a game-theoretic model wherein citizens decide whether to protest against the regime in two consecutive periods. Civil uprisings, however, face two challenges: first, citizens face incomplete information about other citizens' preferences, and hence, about the number of citizens likely to join the protest; and second, to overthrow the regime, protesters need to be numerous enough. The model suggests that a key reason why citizens turn out and protest is to signal to their fellow citizens that they are willing to take to the streets, thereby facilitating political change in the future. The model generates two comparative statics: more repressive regimes are more likely to dissuade mass protests from ever taking place, yet, surprisingly, once citizens are in the streets, protest is more dangerous for regime survival the more repressive the regime is. We provide evidence in support of these two conclusions using data from contemporary regimes from 1950 - 2006.
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