In fact, most countries in the top 20 land there because they are poor and have competitive authoritarian or partially democratic political regimes. Unsurprisingly, coups also turn out to be a recurrent problem; the risk is higher in countries that have experienced other coup attempts in the past several years, a factor common to the top eight countries on this list. Active insurgencies also increase the risk of a coup, and this factor affected the 2012 forecast for countries like Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan. Ditto for civil wars and popular uprisings in regional neighbors and slow economic growth, common themes in several regions, including West and Central Africa.
Of course, the top of the list isn't the only part of it that deserves our attention. Statistical forecasts can also be useful when they surprise us in the other direction, suggesting that some risks aren't as serious as we thought.
One such surprise is Pakistan, which barely cracked the top 40, landing at 38th in the company of Cambodia, Iraq, and Senegal. Pakistan has a deep history of military entanglement in politics, and rumors of an impending coup swept the country again in early 2012. Few observers would claim that Pakistan's civilian government has finally gained decisive control over its security services. Still, my projection is that the risk of a coup attempt in 2012 is substantially lower than Pakistan's checkered history would suggest (which is not to say, as Pakistan's perennially weak showing on the Failed States Index makes clear, that there's nothing else to worry about).
Sometimes, the forecasts can prove useful even when they confirm the conventional wisdom. Twice in the first few months of this year, China, of all places, was the subject of coup rumors. China hasn't seen a coup attempt in decades, and as expected, the 2012 forecasts rank it among the world's lower-risk countries, at 94th out of more than 150. Why? Because China just doesn't bear any real resemblance to the countries that have seen coup attempts in the recent past. Statistical models aren't crystal balls, but they can help us remember to take a deep breath when rumors start flying.