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7 - Threatening Citizens with Repression

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 explores how autocrats use propaganda to explicitly threaten repression, which often occurs via codewords. Threats of repression remind citizens of the consequences of dissent, but they are costly. When propaganda apparatuses seek credibility, threatening repression makes persuading citizens of regime merits more difficult. Threats of repression also endow sensitive moments with even more significance to citizens. We show that propaganda-based threats of repression are more common where electoral constraints are non-binding. Even as Ben Ali was losing power in Tunisia, for instance, his propaganda apparatus chose to concede citizen frustrations and emphasize the government’s determination to do better, rather than advertise the military’s loyalty and training, both routinely cited during the succession crisis in Uzbekistan. We find that Cameroon’s Paul Biya issues threats in English, but not in French; his political in-group is francophone, his out-group anglophone. We find that the CCP is far more likely to explicitly threaten repression in the Xinjiang Daily, which targets the ethnic Uyghur out-group, and on the anniversaries of ethnic separatist movements.

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Chapter
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Propaganda in Autocracies
Institutions, Information, and the Politics of Belief
, pp. 289 - 334
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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