What Is The ‘Tipping Point’ When A Minority Wins Over A Majority?

What Is The ‘Tipping Point’ When A Minority Wins Over A Majority?

A recent study suggests that the tipping point is surprisingly only 10% of people within various networks. Minorities do rule.

Paloma M. Vazquez
  • 12 september 2011

A recent piece in The Atlantic turned our attention to a recent study conducted by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Network Science and Technology Center, in which they analyzed and modeled various types of networks where a minority strove to conquer a majority opinion. If one wants to overthrow a tyrant or extremist regime,  or spark the propagation of a little known idea, fashion or cuisine across a given network – the study suggests that three conditions are needed within said network:

  • A rather open-minded majority with flexibility in its views
  • A committed and determined minority with intractable views
  • A threshold where 10% of the population begins to advocate for the minority opinion

Of additional note is the study’s observation that, once the minority grows past the 10% tipping point, the time to reach social consensus accelerates dramatically. This effect was observed during recent anti-government movements in both Tunisia and Egypt, and was tested – and found to be accurate – across networks of different sizes and structures (from small towns where each ‘node’ is connected to each other, to larger networks where a select few are more highly connected). With the lowest critical threshold calculated at 7% within particular networks, the 10% tipping point ‘rule’ reflects the study’s upper bound.

While the study’s findings are ripe for additional exploration and study, they are not perfect nor absolute. There are of course exceptions and factors that the study could not account for, and that may indicate that this observed ‘tipping point’ may not apply to networks that demonstrate particular characteristics. For instance:

  • At least two polarized parties, where neither is considered a clear minority or majority to begin with
  • Strongly committed members of the majority whose will and action rivals that of the strongly committed minority
  • Brute force suppression of minority opinion

The article and study emphasize the importance of the strength of the minority’s opinion – particularly, for that opinion to be ‘intractable’ and unwavering – ensuring that the tipping point applies. Milder opinions with grey areas and sentiments do not have the same impact or acceleration in propagation to the majority.

While this study isn’t perfect or absolute across every type of network, it does bring to the surface some very interesting observations and hypotheses for why certain ideas become revolutionary – and why others may not. It may also offer some learnings as to what may need to change within a network to allow for said propagation. We would love for additional studies to explore the notion of a tipping point across networks with at least two polarizing and equally strong minority/majority opinions (i.e., the Democratic and Republican parties). It may offer insights as to what may need to change within a network that could very positively impact an entity as complex as our country – not to mention businesses.

The Atlantic: From Sushi to Tunisia: A Guide to Swaying Majority Opinion


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