I remember coming across a study, possibly featured in a John Oliver segment, that found that a successful coup needs only a surprisingly small percentage of the population; I think it was like 1-3% of the population needs to be motivated to over throw the government for their coup to be successful. Does anyone know what study this was from? If I recall correctly it was authored by a woman.

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    Doesn't it rather depend on who that 1-3% is? If it's the army, that's one thing. Quite another if it's urban slum dwellers.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 7, 2021 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


The source of this is Erica Chenoweth, and her value is 3.5% of the population mobilized. It was given in her TEDx talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJSehRlU34w

Transcript is on internet archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20200718085610/https://rationalinsurgent.com/2013/11/04/my-talk-at-tedxboulder-civil-resistance-and-the-3-5-rule/

Researchers used to say that no government could survive if five percent of its population mobilized against it. But our data reveal that the threshold is probably lower. In fact, no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that [5]. Now, 3.5% is nothing to sneeze at. In the U.S. today, this means almost 11 million people.

But get this: Every single campaign that did surpass that 3.5% threshold was a nonviolent one. In fact, campaigns that relied solely on nonviolent methods were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign.

The point of the talk is that you can achieve this level more effectively with civil protest, than with violence.

You can find methodology etc linked from her blog https://www.ericachenoweth.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/WCRWAppendix-1.pdf

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    I for one am rather skeptical of that research, because it depends on how the issue is framed in several ways. Trivially if your goal is to win elections, 3.5% is hardly ever enough. Then there's the issue of what it means to be "actively engaged" etc. OTOH, if 9 million people camped in DC day in and day out, asking for Trump to be recognized as the true winner... who knows what might happen. Jan 7, 2021 at 8:07
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    Sure, but the question in the body is not the same as the question in the title. I've answer the body question: "what was the study that found 3.5%". I'll let Erica answer the question in the title. If you want to know definitions of "active and sustained", or how you judge "success" etc see the linked methodology. I'm reporting, not defending this research.
    – James K
    Jan 7, 2021 at 8:29
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    To add context to the above comments: A moderator has since updated the title to match the body.
    – Brian
    Jan 7, 2021 at 17:16
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    It also seems to assume that there is not an equally large, or larger, body that is actively opposed to that 3.5% And how well armed and organized the two groups are. If we take Trump's failed coup attempt as an example, worst case you'd just have to send in a fairly small Marine detachment :-)
    – jamesqf
    Jan 7, 2021 at 18:11
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    It looks like OP is confusing coup d'etat with revolution.
    – RonJohn
    Jan 7, 2021 at 20:49

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