How to Win Well: Civil Resistance Breakthroughs and the Path to Democracy


Civil resistance is one of the most powerful forces for moving countries from dictatorship to democracy. Yet many civil resistance campaigns, even when they achieve a breakthrough against their authoritarian opponents, fail to result in high-quality new democratic regimes. I argue that one key factor influencing this is the mechanism through which civil resistance campaigns achieve this breakthrough. Winning a civil resistance campaign via an election or negotiation tends to promote democratization, while extra-institutional seizures of power, even when primarily nonviolent, tend to make democratization less likely. Cross-national statistical evidence from all successful civil resistance campaigns from 1945-2011 and two key case studies from Egypt and Armenia provide strong supportive evidence of the importance of breakthrough mechanisms and the democratizing impact of elections and negotiations. To promote democracy, civil resistance typically must not just win, it must win well.

International Center on Nonviolent Conflict Special Report 4
Jonathan Pinckney
Jonathan Pinckney
Assistant Professor

My research interests include civil resistance, democratization, and peacebuilding.