There’s been lots of ink spilled on the topic of whether Russian citizens “really” support Putin, whether Chinese support for the Communist party is waning, whether the people of Belarus want to oust Lukashenko, etc.

But is there any significant correlation between the level of popular support of a regime and how long it stays in power? It seems to me that Putin could easily stay in power even if only 10% of the population support him but I could be wrong.

  • 5
    You are asking the wrong question. Turn it around: "Can an authoritarian regime stay in power against the resistance of the majority of the population?" The difference between your question and mine is whether those who are apathetic get counted in the 'support' or 'resistance' group. Amd this third group tends to be larger than the 'support' and 'resistance' parts of the population taken together.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 21 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


This position, that it doesn't matter, is just as dubious as the opposite, that a dictatorship can't stay in power given strong opposition from the population (cough, Syria, cough).

Absent a coup, popular discontent is often how dictatorships go out of power.


“How did you go bankrupt?" Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

We don't have that much data to look at *, but we do have examples of regimes that look well-entrenched until they collapsed, surprising everyone.

Shah, Iran 1990

Abstract: When recalling U.S.-Iranian relations during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, many sources blame the fall of the shah on the failure of U.S. intelligence to accurately predict the crisis and keep Washington, DC, policymakers informed. That argument, however, ignores the reality that a reassessment of U.S. policy never occurred during that troubled time, even as the quality of intelligence improved, since the James E. “Jimmy” Carter administration did not believe the shah might be forced from power.

Bebe Doc, Haiti

Widespread discontent began manifesting further in March 1983, when Pope John Paul II visited Haiti. The pontiff declared that "things must change in Haiti"...

Ceauscescu Rumania, 1989

However, Ceaușescu had misjudged the crowd's mood. Roughly eight minutes into his speech, several people began jeering and booing, and others began chanting "Timișoara!"[62] .... Images of Ceaușescu's facial expression as the crowd began to boo and heckle him were among the most widely broadcast of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe

Tunisia 2011

The Tunisian Revolution (also called the Jasmine Revolution and Tunisian Revolution of Dignity[8][9][10]) was an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance. It included a series of street demonstrations which took place in Tunisia, and led to the ousting of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Marcos, Philippines

The People Power Revolution, also known as the EDSA Revolution[a] or the February Revolution,[4][5][6][7] was a series of popular demonstrations in the Philippines, mostly in Metro Manila, from February 22 to 25, 1986.

In Tianamen, 1989, it was the CCP's great luck that the protests did not spread to a wider segment of the population.

* Furthermore....

significant correlation

Doing stats attribution on one factor correctly relies on two things: a large enough sample and being able to flush out other variables.

Asking this, with our limited sample size of relevant states, in the past century (previously most of the world's people had limited expectations of benign government), and with a multitude of other variables present, seems, to my techy self, to be a conceit that tries to inject a veneer of "hard science" certainty into what is by nature not a "hard science". That cuts both ways: on this Q's premise, that it doesn't matter, and on the opposite, that popular sentiment will prevail.

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    Tianamen was actually a counter-liberalization protest aiming at restoring Maoism, as far as I know.
    – alamar
    Commented Jan 22 at 9:51
  • @alamar: That...might depend on who you ask - the Wikipedia article does indicate that the naming of the event changed locally according to the Chinese government, but a response to governments' response to one member trying to move policies towards free market style economic reforms quicker than preferred. That aside for its own question, it was still a concern for the popular support for the regime. Commented Jan 24 at 6:14

And why there is no popular support for the authoritarian regime?

Authoritarian regime has a large propaganda machine, efficient means to suppress any kind of opposition up to holding the blank sheet of paper as a sign of protest. Schools are ready to serve for it. The opponents either sit in jail so "criminals" or are in exile so it can be easily be claimed as "they no longer belong to us". The regime also has economic means to arbitrarily reward and punish complete layers of the society. They can release convicted killers from the jail, bless them heroes and tell the society to shut down. There are enough people or art and even science, or even as far as religion, to do any service for the regime it would order.

And humans are so prone to propaganda that bubbling radio in the kitchen can set father against the son who hears a different radio bubbling.

With all these means at hand, any regime serving for the nation at least bearably badly must be very popular. 99%. 99.9999%. I mean really, not just by fabricating the statistics. The question on how the opposition is gaining any popularity is comparable to a question how now this old lady in wheelchair takes over the Formula I car.

I this is already happening, the Formula I car is likely facing technical problems so severe that its complete stop is very near. There are likely some quite large or otherwise strong social groups really unhappy with the present situation, and these groups likely have very serious reasons to be so. Democracy has means to give early warning and change of power if necessary. There is no early warning under regime, so all regimes look or even are popular (outside these angry groups) before they suddenly collapse.

  • I believe you greatly underestimate the natural human inclination to be discontent and grumpy, which would find the authoritarian leader as one of its targets, and that would need constant damage control to keep in check.
    – alamar
    Commented Jan 22 at 9:46

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