Social Signals and Participation in the Tunisian Revolution

Revolutionary protests can spread surprisingly rapidly. Social contagion may play a key role in this process: people who observe others participating may be more likely to do so themselves, thus reinforcing the proparticipation signal. We leverage data from two surveys to assess the relationship between exposure to proparticipatory social signals and individual-level participation in the Tunisian revolution. We benchmark these effects to those associated with individual-level characteristics, including those tied to political and economic grievances. We find robust evidence of the importance of social signals: those who reported having friends who participated and those who lived in neighborhoods where others participated in the protests were substantially more likely to participate, even after controlling for an array of individual-level and contextual confounds. We find scant support for the expectation that participants and nonparticipants were distinguished by their commitment to democracy or by economic grievances.

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