A study on network theory finds that the tipping point needed for a committed minority to win over the majority is just 10 percent
How do you topple a tyrant or popularize a foreign cuisine? According to a recent study in the journal Physical Review E, mobilizing an unyielding minority of 10 percent may be enough.
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Network Science and Technology Center created and analyzed various models of networks where a minority strived to overtake the majority's opinion. They found that three conditions are key: a majority that is flexible with their views, a minority that is intractable, and a critical threshold wherein about a tenth of the population advocate the minority opinion. They also saw that the time it takes to reach social consensus drops dramatically as the minority grows past this tipping point, a phenomenon they observed in the growth of anti-government sentiment in Tunisia and Egypt.
"The governments of these two countries survived for decades in the past, despite more or less visible opposition," says coauthor and center director Boleslaw Szymanski. "Yet last winter, they were toppled in a matter of months."
The researchers saw this sudden power shift play out regardless of the network's structure. For a complete graph where each entity or node was connected with all the other nodes in the network (i.e. a small village where everyone knows each other), a staunch minority of 9.79 percent was enough to precipitate social agreement. For other graphs, including one where each node was connected to the same limited number of nodes and another where a select few were more connected than others, this critical threshold was no lower than seven percent. "Within the assumptions of our model," says Szymanski, "one can safely assume that 10 percent is an upper bound."