Discussion paper

DP17643 Power Mismatch and Civil Conflict: An Empirical Investigation

This paper empirically shows that the imbalance between an ethnic group’s political and military power is crucial to understand the likelihood that a group engages in a conflict. We develop a novel measure of a group’s military power by combining machine learning techniques with rich data on ethnic group characteristics and outcomes of civil conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. We couple this measure with available indicators of ethnic groups’ political power as well as with a novel proxy based on information about the ethnicity of cabinet members. We find that groups characterized by a higher mismatch between military and political power are approximately 30% more likely to engage in a conflict against their government. We also find that the effects of power mismatch are nonlinear, which is in agreement with the predictions of a simple model that accounts for the cost of conflict. Moreover, our results suggest that high-mismatched groups are typically involved in larger and centrist conflicts. The policy implication is that power-sharing recommendations and institutional design policies for peace should consider primarily the reduction of power mismatches between relevant groups, rather than focusing exclusively on equalizing military or political power in isolation.


Morelli, M, L Ogliari and L Hong (2022), ‘DP17643 Power Mismatch and Civil Conflict: An Empirical Investigation‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17643. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17643