Not Your Father’s Global Uprising


Kalev Leetaru used data from the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone to determine how the global wave of protests over the past three years measures up to the historical trend. As it turns out, today’s protest-happy world is not quite so unprecedented as the conventional wisdom would have it:

The number of protests each month is divided by the total number of all events recorded in GDELT that month to create a “protest intensity” score that tracks just how prevalent worldwide protest activity has been month-by-month over the last quarter-century (this corrects for the exponential rise in media coverage over the last 30 years and the imperfect nature of computer processing of the news). To make it easier to spot the macro-level patterns, a black 12-month moving average trend line is drawn on top of the graph to help clarify the major temporal shifts.

One of the most striking features of this timeline is the sharp rise in global protest activity beginning in January 2011 as the Arab Spring washed over the Middle East, followed by a steady state of elevated protest activity over the following three years. In short, the Arab Spring indeed appears to have kicked off a 25 percent increase in protest activity around the world. This elevated level of protests appears to be stabilizing after a period of slight decrease, suggesting a future in which citizen protests play a larger role in global politics. However, it is important to put the current protests in historical context: The uprisings of recent years are still less prevalent than they were through most of the 1980s. In fact, the elevated protest activity of the last three years is only noticeable because it comes on the heels of two decades of relatively reduced protest action.