Over the past four decades, there has been an astonishing, though little noticed, decline in the number of autocratic regimes around the world. In the mid-1970s, there were some 84 autocracies worldwide; by 2012 there were just 20 — a 75 percent decline. This shift has been evident to a greater or lesser degree in every region of the world.
Successful campaigns of non-violent direct action have played a substantial role in helping drive this decline. From the late 1970s to 2006 there were 39 such campaigns against autocratic regimes — almost half were successful. This success rate was substantially greater than that of violent insurrections. During this period few autocratic regimes were overthrown by rebel armies, or were deposed by foreign military intervention.
Just how successful nonviolent campaigns have become over the past century, both in absolute terms and relative to armed struggles, was revealed in a path-breaking 2011 study entitled Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. Drawing on a new dataset of some 323 violent and non-violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006, Chenoweth and Stephan tracked the long-term increase in the number of non-violent campaigns and compared their success rates with those that relied on armed violence.