HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Academic Dean for Faculty Engagement
Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment


Why have some nonviolent revolutions succeeded even with modest participation numbers, while others have failed despite massive mobilization? We develop an agent-based model that predicts the outcomes of three well-known activism strategies. The first rapidly recruits a wide number of activists, which overwhelms the opponent's support network and encourages large-scale defections. In the second, activists who have already mobilized remain committed to success and inspire other civilians to protest even when they are unable to protest themselves. In the third strategy, campaigns focus their energy and influence directly on the regime's pillars of support. We find that this third strategy outperforms the others in generating defections, even when the size of the campaign is small. When activists have information about pillars' levels of loyalty to the regime, they can target persuasion on the pillars most likely to defect. Importantly, for small or medium-sized movements, the strategy of focusing on pillars-especially the least loyal pillars-is more likely to yield success than relying on rapid mobilization and numerical advantage alone.


Chenoweth, Erica, Andrew Hocking, and Zoe Marks. "A Dynamic Model of Nonviolent Resistance Strategy." PLoS ONE 17.7 (July 2022).