People Power or a One-Shot Deal? A Dynamic Model of Protest


  • We are grateful for the many comments and suggestions we received when presenting previous drafts of this article at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Princeton University, the 9th annual meeting of the International Society for New Institutional Economics, and the Political Economy Workshop at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers at the AJPS for helpful suggestions for revision.

Adam Meirowitz is John Work Garrett Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540 ( Joshua A. Tucker is Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012 (


In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, a crucial question is whether popular protest is now likely to be a permanent part of Middle Eastern politics or if the protests that have taken place over the past two years are more likely to be a “one-shot deal.” We consider this question from a theoretical perspective, focusing on the relationship between the consequences of protests in one period and the incentives to protest in the future. The model provides numerous predictions for why we might observe a phenomenon that we call the “one-shot deal”: when protest occurs at one time but not in the future despite an intervening period of bad governance. The analysis focuses on the learning process of citizens. We suggest that citizens may not only be discovering the type or quality of their new government—as most previous models of adverse selection assume—but rather citizens may also be learning about the universe of potential governments in their country. In this way, bad performance by one government induces some pessimism about possible replacements. This modeling approach expands the formal literature on adverse selection in elections in two ways: it takes seriously the fact that removing governments can be costly, and it explores the relevance of allowing the citizen/principal to face uncertainty about the underlying distribution from which possible government/agent types are drawn.