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2 - A Theory of Autocratic Propaganda

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

This chapter develops a formal model of autocratic propaganda. Citizens are uncertain about the link between policy and outcomes, and hence the regime’s performance. Citizens are also uncertain about the regime’s capacity for repression. Autocrats use propaganda to shape citizens’ beliefs about both. Where relatively binding electoral constraints compel autocrats to employ propaganda to curry support, their propaganda apparatuses must acquire credibility by conceding bad news and policy failures. We refer to this as “honest propaganda.” In the absence of electoral constraints, autocrats employ absurd propaganda, which signals to citizens that the regime has no need for their support: that its hold on power rests on coercion, not persuasion. Our theory generates a range of predictions about how propaganda strategies change with features of the autocrat’s strategic environment, including the threats posed by elite coups and alternative sources of information to citizens.

Type
Chapter
Information
Propaganda in Autocracies
Institutions, Information, and the Politics of Belief
, pp. 39 - 81
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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