Working Paper
Don’t rock the boat? Fears of conflict and support for protest in Iraq and beyond

Why do people support—or refrain from supporting—nonviolent protests for political change? The literature offers different answers to this question, but one variable that has received little attention is fears of protest unleashing violent conflict. This is surprising given that protest movements often emerge in insecure societies—from Iraq to Pakistan and Algeria to Myanmar—that have experienced or are at risk of experiencing large-scale civil strife.

We argue that conflict fears can be an impediment to people backing nonviolent protest movements in insecure places, making them seen as risky propositions that ‘rock the boat’ and destabilize the country.

We investigate this argument using an original survey conducted in Iraq during the ‘Tishreen’ uprising of 2019–21 and a cross-national analysis of civil war and nonviolent resistance from 1945–2013. The results support our argument, suggesting that scholars and practitioners need to pay more attention to how fears of conflict and movements for change are interlinked in world politics.