In many countries across the world, the struggle over democracy remains a real and pressing concern. Yet, whereas some pro-democracy movements have been successful in prompting democratization, others have been violently shut down by dictators who successfully clung to power. Some movements that initially prompted real democratic gains have later seen these reversed. Why do some pro-democracy movements succeed, while others fail?
The project Mobilizing for and against Democracy (MoDe) proposes that an answer to this important question can be found in the characteristics of the social groups that mobilize to support or oppose democracy. Through novel theory development, and an ambitious data collection effort, MoDe offers a comprehensive picture of how democratization trajectories over the past 250 years have been shaped by the interest, capacity, and interaction of the social groups involved. MoDe analyzes why particular social groups, for example, students, land-owners, the military, or industrial workers, mobilize to support or oppose a non-democratic regime. It moreover examines how the composition of the coalitions that mobilize for or against the autocratic regime influence the likelihood of democratization; the risk of violence during the transition; the type of institutions implemented in the new regime; and the long-term prospect for democratic consolidation.
Research from the project shows that sustained mass protests can prompt regimes to change institutions in a controlled manner to diffuse or pre-empt threats, but that only non-violent protests are associated with democratizing transition. Violent protests, on the other hand, typically precede movements towards less democracy. The association between peaceful mass mobilization and democratic transition is particularly pronounced for movements where industrial workers participate and that have democracy as a pronounced goal. Movements also have a larger probability of success if they mobilize from a diverse segment of society and the protest coalition is broadly based with different social groups. The project shows that the positive impact of protest on democratization is particularly pronounced from the mid-1980s until 2014. The success of non-violent mobilization in promoting democracy has become much weaker in the past decade.
Results from MoDe also highlight how mass mobilization can influence the impact of other crises. Popular movements can for example increase the probability of democratization in the wake of military coups. Economic crisis can increase the likelihood of mass mobilization that promotes anti-liberal and autocratic goals and also make regime transitions more likely. Our research also shows that the main reason why non-violent means increase citizens' support for a movement is the intrinsic commitment to nonviolent resistance amongst the public, rather than the belief per se that non-violence will be more efficient than violent means. With this research, MoDe contributes with new knowledge regarding when democratization movements succeed or fail.
The main academic outcome of MoDe is enhanced understanding of how protest campaign characteristics, particularly their social group composition and the goals they advance. Based on theoretical and empirical advances, MoDe has contributed to our understanding of how such features of campaigns influences the goals that the campaigns are able to achieve.
Our research highlighting the importance of protest campaign characteristics for democratization outcomes has been published in top-level peer-reviewed journals and presented at numerous academic conferences and workshops over the past three years. MoDe has also produced the most comprehensive dataset on mass-mobilization campaigns and their features to date, with over 1,456 mass mobilization movements from 151 countries across 1789-2020. The dataset will enable future research to build on this novel approach and systematically assess whether constellations of classes and interests are effective in engendering democratization, independence, or other types of major political change, once they coordinate and mobilize. A key impact from MoDe is enhanced knowledge on how mass protest can successfully foster democratization.
The project team has also worked towards broader societal impact by disseminating their research and undertaking other outreach activities to communicate their research and expertise to a broader public. Commentaries, shorter analysis pieces, and media appearances related to the project have been published in Norwegian and international media outlets, often set against the backdrop of current events such as mass protests in Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine or the Nobel Peace Prize 2022 awarded to civil society organizations’ contribution to human rights and peace. The MoDe team has also engaged policy-makers and activists in the field of human rights and democracy promotion directly, by participating in meetings and round-tables facilitating knowledge exchange between academics and various stake-holders in events joined by e.g. parliamentarians, UNDP, and European Council to mention a few.
The struggle over democracy remains a real and pressing concern for academics and policy makers alike. Whereas some pro-democracy movements in recent years have been successful in ousting long-lived autocrats, others have been violently shut down as dictators clung to power. Some opposition movements that initially prompted real democratic gains have later seen these reversed following violent face-offs with regime supporters. Why do some pro-democracy movements succeed, while others fail?
This project proposes that an answer to this important question can be found in the characteristics of the social-group coalitions that mobilize to support or oppose democracy. Mobilizing for and against Democracy (MoDe) will – through novel theory-development, an ambitious data collection, and a combination of statistical and qualitative research – offer a comprehensive picture of how democratization trajectories have been shaped by the interest, capacity and interaction of the social groups involved, dating from the French revolution to the present.
The idea that regime preferences are shaped by social groups' standing in the economy is widely acknowledged in the existing literature. Yet, in lieu of comprehensive, actor-centric data, theoretical conjectures have focused on aggregate outcomes, tested with imperfect, macro-economic proxies. Further still, few studies have looked beyond economic interests to consider a broader range of groups – such as the church, students, military or ethnic groups – thereby potentially downplaying the role of values and ideas such as nationalism, liberalism, or religious conservatism in shaping democratization trajectories.
An actor-oriented approach to democratization will offer new and valuable insights, not only on the likelihood of democratization, but also on the risk of violence during democratic transitions; the type of institutions implemented in the post-transition regime; and the long-term prospect for democratic consolidation.