Citizens have long taken to the streets to demand change, expressing political views that may otherwise be suppressed. Protests have produced change at local, national, and international scales, including spectacular moments of political and social transformation. We document five new empirical patterns describing 1.2 million protest events across 218 countries between 1980 and 2020. First, autocracies and weak democracies experienced a trend break in protests during the Arab Spring. Second, protest movements also rose in importance following the Arab Spring. Third, protest movements geographically diffuse over time, spiking to their peak, before falling off. Fourth, a country’s year-to-year economic performance is not strongly correlated with protests; individual values are predictive of protest participation. Fifth, the US, China, and Russia are the most over-represented countries by their share of academic studies. We discuss each pattern’s connections to the existing literature and anticipate paths for future work.
We thank Alexander Basov, William Radaic, Lin Fang, Wenhao Liu, and Minsoo Kang for excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.