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    This website is dedicated to political demography, and to The Age-structural Theory of State Behavior (download article here). Read "The 8 Rules" for a quick summary of the theory. See sidebar (homepage) for key publications and web essays. Please follow the development of this research on Twitter at @rpCincotta or visit the New Security Beat.

  • Are youthful demographic conditions pushing the Sahel to an “Afghanistan Moment”?

    With but a few exceptions, the political elites in the Western Sahel seem unmoved to address, or even discuss, the drivers of sustained high fertility. In the region, these include forced early marriage of girls and high rates of adolescent childbearing; a very limited degree of educational opportunity and autonomy among women; large desired-family sizes coupled with short birth intervals; and limited access to, and knowledge of, modern contraception. Without a focused effort to reverse these drivers, the Western Sahel risks drifting to a tipping point—a moment Afghanistan encountered in 2021, and Somalia in 1993—when European governments, the United States, and key international and regional organizations abandoned their commitments, opting instead to contain spillovers of political violence, criminal activity, and out-migration at the regional frontiers.  


    Figure 1. The positions of the six Western Sahelian states in the youthful phase of the age structural transition (note positions of Afghanistan and Somalia).

    The remainder of this article is found on the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat website by clicking here.
    Or view or download from here

    To view or download full Atlantic Council report on Sahelian demography and its implications click here.

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    Thomas Sankara’s Lost Legacy

    by Richard Cincotta

    Woodrow Wilson Center Global Fellow/Senior Fellow, The Population Institute

    Thirty-four years ago, Burkina Faso’s president, Thomas Sankara, was murdered. Only now are his alleged assassins on trial. Had he survived, the arid, landlocked country of more than 20 million people might well have taken a far different path to development.

    The late-Thomas Sankara, former president of Burkina Faso (1984-87)

    More media attention has focused on former-president Thomas Sankara’s modest salary and lifestyle, than the most audacious and forward-thinking of his reforms: his pro-women policies and programs. Sankara encouraged girls to finish secondary school and earn income, introduced voluntary family planning programs, and required schools to allow pregnant students to return to finish their education. Long before African leaders paid attention to women’s rights, Sankara’s government outlawed female genital cutting, forced marriages, and polygamy. Sankara also appointed women to cabinet positions and other top government posts, and mandated women’s participation in village governing committees. His was the first among African governments to recruit women into the military.

    To read the complete essay on Sankara, go to The New Security Beat site.
    To view or download a .pdf of the essay, click here.  
    Or, for the full report, go to the Atlantic Council’s “What Future for the Western Sahel?


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    What Future for the Western Sahel?

    The Region’s Demography and Its Implications by 2045 (Atlantic Council, 2021)

    By Richard Cincotta and Stephen Smith

    The 6 states of the Western Sahel, northern Nigeria, and the Sahel climatic zone.

    The Western Sahel—a region stretching from Senegal and Mauritania to Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, and including the twelve sharia law states of northern Nigeria—is in a demographic impasse. Rather than yielding an economic dividend, the conditions spawned by the region’s persistently youthful, rapidly growing, high-fertility populations overwhelm the capabilities of state-run services, generate extensive urban slum conditions, slow if not stall economic and social progress, and aggravate ethnic tensions. Decades of exposure to these mutually reinforcing conditions have undermined the legitimacy of central governments and rendered the region’s states vulnerable to the spread of Islamic populism and regime instability. For more …..

    To view the report online: go here.  

    To view the Executive Summary, go to the Atlantic Council website

    To download the report in .pdf format: download here

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    Predicting the Rise and Demise of Liberal Democracy: How well did we do?

    by Richard Cincotta

    In 2007, at the (U.S.) National Intelligence Council, a colleague and I set out to determine if we could forecast two distinct political phenomena, the rise and the demise of high levels of democracy. To guide our decade-long forecasts, we relied on a simple statistical model and a spreadsheet of demographic projections from the UN’s 2006 World Population Prospects data set. Now that the experimental period (from 2010 to 2020) has ended, we can look back and ask: How well did these forecasts perform? 

    Overall, surprisingly well; but by no means, flawlessly. In fact, we expected too much political liberalization during a decade when democracy was largely in retreat. Yet, had our age-structural forecasts been taken more seriously when first presented and published (see “Half a Chance”, published by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program), foreign affairs analysts might have been amply forewarned of two of the decade’s most unanticipated political events: Tunisia’s rise to liberal democracy (Free in Freedom House’s annual assessments); and the demise of four of West Africa’s liberal democracies (decline from Free to Partly Free or Not Free).

    To continue reading, go to: New Security Beat, Predicting the Rise and Demise of Liberal Democracy: How well did we do?

    The age-structural model of liberal democracy, based on Freedom House’s (FH) annual assessments (Free, Partly Free, Not Free). Data: FH, 1972 to 2010.
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    Education, Urbanization, and the U.S. Presidential Election

    Go to article here 

    Rather than delve into issue opinion polling, or assess presidential campaign strategies, political demographers assume that political change is the predictable product of a set of mutually reinforcing social, economic, and demographic transitions, which can be tracked using data. But is this true in a country like the United States that has been in the advanced stages of these development transitions for decades? If these transitions are as important as demographers believe, could their variation among the 50 states explain the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election? If so, what could they tell us about America’s electoral future?

    My attempt to answer these questions begins with a brief discussion of the CNN exit polling during the 2016 presidential election and ends with an analysis of the 2020 state results. Given what has already been said about the Democratic Party’s appeal among college-educated Americans and the Republican Party’s appeal among rural Americans, the basic conclusions are not surprising. What I find surprising is the ability of these individual party strengths, almost by themselves, to divide America’s states into a hard-to-change red and blue pattern. ….. (continue)

    Read more at the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat or download article here.


    Figure. U.S. Presidential election results, Nov. 2020, showing each state’s proportion of college graduates (vertical axis) and proportion of urban residents (horizontal axis).
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