Predicting Local Violence

81 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2014 Last revised: 22 Jun 2017

Robert Blair

Brown University

Christopher Blattman

University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Alexandra Hartman

University College of London

Date Written: April 15, 2015


This paper tests the feasibility of local-level violence forecasting. We apply standard prediction models to new data from 242 Liberian communities to investigate whether it is to possible to predict outbreaks of local violence with sensitivity and accuracy, even with limited data. We first trained our models to predict communal, extrajudicial, and criminal violence in 2010 using 2008 risk factors. We then made forecasts of violence in 2012, before collecting data. Our model predicted up to 88% of actual 2012 violence. This came at the cost of many false positives, for overall accuracy of 33 to 50%. Policy-wise, states and peacekeepers could use such predictions to prevent and respond to violence. The models also generated new stylized facts for theory to explain. In this case, ethnic cleavages and power-sharing predicted violence, while economic variables typically did not. We illustrate how forecasting can be widely more applied to micro-level conflict data.

Keywords: forecasting, violence, crime, fights, riots, ethnic politics, Liberia, prediction, early warning

JEL Classification: C53, D74, K42, O12

Suggested Citation

Blair, Robert and Blattman, Christopher and Hartman, Alexandra, Predicting Local Violence (April 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Robert Blair

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Christopher Blattman (Contact Author)

University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Alexandra Hartman

University College of London ( email )

29-30 Tavistock Sq
School of Public Policy
London, WC1H 9QU
United Kingdom

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