Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth. 4/20/2020. “Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-005. See full text.
Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule

Abstract:

The “3.5% rule” refers to the claim that no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event. In this brief paper, author Erica Chenoweth addresses some of the common questions about the 3.5% rule, as well as several updates from more recent work on this topic.

Four key takeaways are as follows:

  • The 3.5% figure is a descriptive statistic based on a sample of historical movements. It is not necessarily a prescriptive one, and no one can see the future. Trying to achieve the threshold without building a broader public constituency does not guarantee success in the future.
  • The 3.5% participation metric may be useful as a rule of thumb in most cases; however, other factors—momentum, organization, strategic leadership, and sustainability—are likely as important as large-scale participation in achieving movement success and are often precursors to achieving 3.5% participation.
  • New research suggests that one nonviolent movement, Bahrain in 2011-2014, appears to have decisively failed despite achieving over 6% popular participation at its peak. This suggests that there has been at least one exception to the 3.5% rule, and that the rule is a tendency, rather than a law.
  • Large peak participation size is associated with movement success. However, most mass nonviolent movements that have succeeded have done so even without achieving 3.5% popular participation. 

Read the full paper. 

: Erica Chenoweth | April 20 2020
: The “3.5% rule” refers to the claim that no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event.
Last updated on 04/21/2020