Forecasting Political Instability: Results from a Tournament of Methods

30 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2012

Date Written: September 28, 2012


This report describes the design, and summarizes the results of, a forecasting “tournament” undertaken by the CIA-funded Political Instability Task Force in 2009–2010. The purpose of the tournament was to evaluate systematically the relative merits of several statistical techniques for forecasting various forms of political change in countries worldwide. Among other things, the tournament confirmed our belief that domain expertise and familiarity with relevant data help lead to more accurate forecasts. When knowledge of theory and data were held constant, the forecasts produced by most of the techniques we tried did not diverge by much. Unsurprisingly, this tournament also confirmed that forecasting rare forms of political instability as far as two years in advance is hard to do well. The forecasting tools the participants produced were generally quite good at discriminating high-risk cases from low-risk ones, but none was very precise.

Keywords: political instability, forecasting, coups, civil war, social movements, protests

Suggested Citation

Ulfelder, Jay, Forecasting Political Instability: Results from a Tournament of Methods (September 28, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

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