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What explains protest mobilization in areas of limited statehood, where the government struggles to make and enforce rules? We adapt existing theory to explain protest mobilization through a comparative perspective, beginning with the proposition that informal political elites who mediate citizens’ interactions with the government in areas of limited statehood represent a crucial but understudied source of political opportunity. We specifically argue that informal political elites who are effective intermediaries between citizens and the state moderate the relationship between grievances and protest at the individual-level. Six months of fieldwork in Liberia substantiates this claim. Leveraging an original, high-frequency household panel dataset, we demonstrate how informal political elites called “community chairpeople” moderate the otherwise positive association between public service shortages and protest. Qualitative data collected through focus groups and interviews provide further evidence of how informal political elites shape protest mobilization in settings where the state is weak.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Conflict Resolution in 2023 following peer review. This article may not exactly replicate the final published version. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at


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