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.


Myanmar’s Inability to Ascend to Liberal Democracy

See the New Security Beat essay by Rachel Blomquist and Richard Cincotta on Myanmar’s long-term inability to integrate minorities and to ascend to liberal democracy (FREE in Freedom House’s annual assessment).

According to political demographers, who study the relationship between population dynamics and politics, two characteristics when observed together provide a rather good indication that a state is about to shed its authoritarian regime, rise to a high level of democracy, and stay there. Myanmar has both.

So why, despite an impressive succession of social reforms and political reversals, including the recent victory of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the first elected civilian president, U Htin Kyaw, should analysts remain somewhat skeptical of Myanmar’s ability to make the leap to liberal democracy? The answer can be found in Myanmar’s dismal record of managing inter-ethnic politics, particularly the systematically disenfranchised Muslim Rohingya minority.

Venezuela’s Turn? Age Structure and Liberal Democracy in South America

View the article, “Venezuela’s Turn?”, originally published on New Security Beat.

Over the coming months, political demographers will be closely watching the evolution of events in Venezuela. Why? Theorists in this field expect states to rise to stable levels of liberal democracy when they meet two criteria. One is demographic, the other political. For the first time, Venezuela meets both. Nonetheless, the lead choice for a new liberal democracy in South America is Colombia, which (according to Freedom House’s most recent assessment) is on the verge of entering its “Free” category — at 3.0 and trending upward. Next year’s assessment will hinge on the success or failure of the government’s FARC demobilization process.

For those following the “2008 prediction” made in the Wilson Center publication “Half a Chance“, Colombia’s climb to liberal democracy would mean the fulfillment of both predictions (at least one FREE in North Africa, at least one in the northwest corner of South America by 2020).

Read more …


Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive? A View from Political Demography

View the article, Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive? A View from Political Demography, originally published on The New Security Beat.

What chance does Tunisia’s democracy have of withstanding the formidable challenges that periodically arise? Surprisingly, a good chance, according to recent research in political demography, a field that is focused on a limited yet robust set of relationships between demography and political outcomes.

Read the rest of “Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive?” A View from Political Demography” here …  

Arab Spring: High Food Prices an Unlikely Cause of Revolts

Read “High Food Prices an Unlikely Cause for the Start of the Arab Spring” by Richard Cincotta, posted on the New Security Beat, April 2014.

Just months after popular uprisings toppled Tunisia and Egypt’s authoritarian regimes, a trio of complex-system researchers published a brief article linking these demonstrations with high levels of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s international Food Price Index. Marco Lagi, Karla Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam’s model, which predicts outbreaks of deadly social conflict when the index tops 210, has since become a popular explanation wielded by many for bouts of popular unrest, including the Arab Spring and overthrow of Ukraine’s government. But were food prices really an underlying “hidden” cause for the start of a wave of instability that is still being felt today?

Not everyone is convinced, least of all, international food policy analysts.

Read the rest of the essay here ….