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5 - Narrating the Domestic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2023

Erin Baggott Carter
Affiliation:
University of Southern California
Brett L. Carter
Affiliation:
University of Southern California
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Summary

Propaganda entails narratives: topics covered, omitted, and the account of current events that constitutes history’s first draft. This chapter focuses on domestic narratives. Three issue areas are most salient: the economy and public goods provision, politics, and sports. To capture narrative subtleties, we adapt a measure of semantic distinctiveness from computational linguistics. Where autocrats confront no electoral constraints, we find, their propaganda apparatuses trumpet their democratic credentials, yet omit the stuff of democracy, like electoral campaigns and the opposition. They cover a general, unnamed “opposition” rather than the actual opposition, which would undermine absurd claims of universal support and help citizens coordinate around protest leaders. We observe none of these tactics where autocrats confront electoral constraints, but neither do we observe them systematically denigrating their opposition rivals, since doing so would undermine credibility. Constrained autocrats acknowledge policy failures: fuel crises, vaccine shortages, and persistently high infant mortality. They acknowledge that the government has failed to adequately invest in national sports.

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Propaganda in Autocracies
Institutions, Information, and the Politics of Belief
, pp. 173 - 227
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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