We examine how popular dissent affects the likelihood that political leaders lose power, distinguishing between types of dissent in terms of nonviolent/violent primary tactics as well as the level of individual participation. We posit that protests threaten leaders both directly through the governance costs of citizen non-compliance, and indirectly through the increased risk of elite defections in the ruling coalition. In a series of propositions we detail how the type of dissent and the magnitude of participation influence the odds of leaders surviving in office. We argue that mass nonviolent challenges tend to be more threatening to a leader’s rule than violent dissent, given the characteristics of movements likely to choose nonviolent tactics. Moreover, the effectiveness of the challenge increases in the scale and size of the dissident campaign, and movements that can mobilize larger numbers have a comparative advantage in nonviolent tactics. Employing data on political leaders’ tenure and dissident campaign characteristics, we provide evidence consistent with our expectations.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.