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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.
Where electoral constraints are relatively binding, election seasons constitute profound threats to autocratic survival. Regular elections offer citizens an opportunity to vote against the regime and a focal moment to coordinate mass protests. These electoral propaganda campaigns are critical for regime survival, yet, precisely because they recur, are easiest for citizens to discount. We refer to this tension as the propagandist’s dilemma, and it is acute where autocrats confront relatively binding electoral constraints. To understand how autocrats manage the propagandist’s dilemma, we combine our data with field research in Congo. These propaganda campaigns, we find, begin months before election day, slowly build, and attempt to simultaneously cast the electoral outcome as uncertain and yet prepare citizens to accept the autocrat’s “legitimate” victory. Where autocrats confront no electoral constraints, by contrast, the propaganda spike occurs immediately before election day, and in some cases the post-election spike is even greater.
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.
This chapter probes the politics of pro-regime propaganda. Using a series of statistical techniques, we show that propaganda apparatuses in constrained autocracies cover the regime much like Fox News covers Republicans. Where autocrats are totally unconstrained, pro-regime propaganda is roughly four times more positive than Fox News is pro-Republican. To rule out the possibility of reverse causality and omitted variable bias, we focus on two countries for which our data extend back decades: Gabon and China. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Third Wave of Democracy forced President Omar Bongo to concede democratic reforms, his propaganda strategy changed as our theory predicts. We observe no such change in China, where the Third Wave of Democracy occasioned no such reforms. Chinese propaganda, we show, is driven by politics, not socio-economic change. With Xi Jinping poised to rule indefinitely, CCP propaganda is now more effusive than at any point since the Cultural Revolution. Using list experiments to mitigate preference falsification, we confirm that Chinese citizens view CCP pro-regime propaganda as threatening, not persuasive.
Our theory treats nominally democratic institutions as constraints that autocrats struggle to loosen and citizens’ beliefs as the central battlefield on which the struggle for political change is waged. After reviewing the book’s key findings, in this chapter we use our theoretical framework to suggest a series of important questions about autocratic politics in the early twenty-first century. We explore how the world’s autocrats are attempting to shape their citizens’ beliefs by weaponizing distinctly modern technologies, not just propaganda and censorship. We also discuss how the world’s autocrats are attempting to loosen the electoral constraints that bind them. Although this book is about propaganda in autocracies, it has important implications for politics in democracies, especially as a series of “populist-authoritarian” leaders take power across Europe and North America. We argue, in particular, that Xi Jinping’s propaganda strategy helps us understand the process of democratic erosion underway across the world. We conclude by discussing the book’s implications for public policy.
Does propaganda discourage the sorts of protests that increasingly constitute the chief threat to autocratic survival? Answering this question is complicated by the fact that propaganda is strategic. The regimes that employ more pro-regime propaganda and threaten citizens with violence are systematically different than those that do not. Using a range of estimation strategies, we show that spikes in pro-regime propaganda across autocracies are associated with a 10 percent reduction in the odds of protest the following day. The half-life of the effect is between two and five days, a temporal signature that is strikingly consistent with political messaging in American politics. In China, using an instrumental variables estimation strategy, we show that by doubling the number of references to “stability” or “harmony” – widely acknowledged as codewords for threats of repression – the CCP’s propaganda apparatus halves the number of protests over the subsequent week. These estimates, we show, are robust to non-trivial violations of the exclusion restriction.
“As long as people think that the dictator’s power is secure,” Gordon Tullock wrote, “it is secure.” When citizens think otherwise, all at once, a dictator’s power is anything but, as revealed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring uprisings. This conviction – that power rests on citizens believing in it – has long compelled the world’s autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda apparatuses. This chapter provides an overview of the book. Drawing on the first global dataset of autocratic propaganda, we document dramatic variation in propaganda across autocracies: in coverage of the regime and opposition, narratives about domestic and international life, threats of violence issued to citizens, and the events that shape it. Why do autocrats employ different propaganda strategies? The answer, we argue, is political. Where electoral constraints compel autocrats to seek popular support, their propaganda apparatuses must persuade citizens of regime merits. Where autocrats can fully secure themselves with repression, their propaganda apparatuses aim to make this repressive capacity common knowledge among citizens to discourage mass protests.
Propaganda narratives about international affairs are analytically distinct from those about domestic conditions, since citizens know less about life abroad. This has two implications. First, without a shared sense among citizens for which claims are implausible, what constitutes absurd propaganda is unclear. Second, propaganda apparatuses are able to “get away” with more negative coverage without undermining their neutrality. As a result, propaganda narratives about international news are relatively similar across autocracies. This chapter documents two common propaganda tactics: comparison sets and selective coverage. We pair our cross-country data with case studies from Russia and China. The Russian government confronts more binding electoral constraints than the CCP, but their coverage of Western democracies is similar. The Russian propaganda apparatus often lets Donald Trump speak for it, since he vindicates claims about the collapse of the European Union, the allegiances of Crimeans, the misadventures of America’s foreign policy, and the flaws of American democracy. The CCP’s propaganda apparatus is less fond of Trump, but covers similar issues, often with sophistication.
In the absence of regular elections, the chief moments of tension are often anniversaries of failed pro-democracy movements, which routinely implicate the regime in crimes against citizens. This chapter explores a trade-off. Propaganda content intended to threaten citizens may be useful to deter protest, but draws attention to moments that the regime might prefer citizens forget. This chapter explores how the most repressive governments resolve this tension between memory and forgetting. The CCP, we find, goes to extraordinary lengths to scrub pro-democracy anniversaries from public consciousness, and so reserves propaganda spikes and threats of repression for major political events and the anniversaries of ethnic separatist movements. There is, however, one pro-democracy anniversary that the CCP knows citizens will not forget: the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Since the Xinjiang Uprising of 2009, on each anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, the CCP has used propaganda to remind Beijing’s urban class of ongoing repression against ethnic Uyghurs, millions of whom have been incarcerated. Using a survey experiment, we show that many citizens interpret this as threatening.
This chapter introduces our global dataset of autocratic propaganda, which contains over eight million articles from 65 newspapers drawn from 59 countries in six major languages. By population, our dataset encompasses a set of countries that represents 88\% of all people who live under autocracy. After collecting this propaganda, we measured its content. We employ computational techniques to identify the topics of each article; count the number of references in each article to the autocrat, ruling party, and opposition; and measure the valence of propaganda with dictionary based semantic analysis. The key idea is that some words have an intrinsic positive or negative sentiment. This conception of propaganda -- as spin, not lies -- accords with how scholars and practitioners have long understood it. As a baseline for comparison, our dataset includes state-affiliated newspapers from democracies. To scale our measures of propaganda, we develop a Fox News Index: how Fox News covers Republicans relative to Democrats.
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.
The eleventh century was a period of intense political conflict and two major reform movements as well as war with the Tangut Xi Xia. Supported by the emperor, Wang Anshi’s mid-eleventh-century program of reforms proposed to increase dramatically the power of the state to intervene in the economy and in society as a whole. Although these reforms were rescinded, and pro- and anti-reform factions took turns in power, Wang’s reform set in motion political debates that would rage for centuries after. A major reorganization of the government designed to rationalize the functions of an increasingly complex bureaucracy took place in the late eleventh century. Encounters with rising steppe empires circumscribed political debates at court throughout the Northern Song. The Khitan Liao Empire was destroyed by one of its own vassal peoples, the Jurchen, who then created their own empire and occupied the northern territory of the Song. This marked the fall of the Northern Song, with its capital at Kaifeng in the north, and the founding of the Southern Song, with the emperor’s “temporary residence” in the Yangzi delta city of Hangzhou. The Jurchen Jin was in turn defeated by the rising Mongols, who then conquered the Southern Song.
How was the Roman emperor viewed by his subjects? How strongly did their perception of his role shape his behaviour? Adopting a fresh approach, Panayiotis Christoforou focuses on the emperor from the perspective of his subjects across the Roman Empire. Stress lies on the imagination: the emperor was who he seemed, or was imagined, to be. Through various vignettes employing a wide range of sources, he analyses the emperor through the concerns and expectations of his subjects, which range from intercessory justice to fears of the monstrosities associated with absolute power. The book posits that mythical and fictional stories about the Roman emperor form the substance of what people thought about him, which underlines their importance for the historical and political discourse that formed around him as a figure. The emperor emerges as an ambiguous figure. Loved and hated, feared and revered, he was an object of contradiction and curiosity.
This chapter describes the relationships between domestic political institutions and war. Moving beyond older debates comparing democracies and autocracies, it presents a conceptual structure for differentiating among different types of autocracies. Autocracies vary as either being personalist or non-personalist, and also as being led by either military officers or civilians. Personalist regimes are less constrained by domestic audience costs, and military leaders are more likely to embrace the effectiveness and legitimacy of using force. The likely onset and outcome of conflicts vary across autocracy types. The chapter explores other ideas linking domestic politics and war, including the diversionary theory of war, coup-proofing (when autocrats take steps to reduce their risk of being overthrown in a military coup d’état), and the marketplace of ideas (when foreign policy issues can be freely debated in government and society). The chapter applies many of these ideas to a quantitative study on what kinds of political systems are more likely to win their interstate wars, and a case study of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The Middle East, defined here as the twenty-two members of the Arab League plus Iran and Turkey, has a poor record on matters of governance. Even within the fifty-seven-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, it stands out as weak on rule of law, civil liberties, and government transparency. Another salient characteristic of the Middle East is that its exposure to Islamic law (Sharia) lasted far longer than anywhere else. No Middle Eastern country is governed by Islamic law today; even Iran and Saudi Arabia operate under largely secularized laws. Yet the region’s legal history causes one to expect specific Islamic laws of the past to illuminate its poor political performance today. The legacies transcend contexts explicitly involving religion. Regardless of religious beliefs or attitudes toward religion, every decision maker in the region is constrained by institutions that bear influences of earlier institutions grounded in Islamic law. The contexts that the book’s analysis brings into focus are civic engagement, religious liberty, and economic capability. The illiberal patterns observed in these contexts are sometimes attributed to European colonization alone. In fact, whatever their harms to the region, colonial policies also mitigated institutional inefficiencies rooted in precolonial history.
A dictator's power is secure, the authors begin in this muscular, impressive study, only as long as citizens believe in it. When citizens suddenly believe otherwise, a dictator's power is anything but, as the Soviet Union's collapse revealed. This conviction – that power rests ultimately on citizens' beliefs – compels the world's autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda. This study draws on the first global data set of autocratic propaganda, encompassing nearly eight million newspaper articles from fifty-nine countries in six languages. The authors document dramatic variation in propaganda across autocracies: in coverage of the regime and its opponents, in narratives about domestic and international life, in the threats of violence issued to citizens, and in the domestic events that shape it. The book explains why Russian President Vladimir uses Donald Trump as a propaganda tool and why Chinese state propaganda is more effusive than any point since the Cultural Revolution.
This paper makes the most of the observed actions of bribe takers and givers from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys and studies how a taker's action influences a giver's decision to pay bribes. To motivate our empirical study, we consider Kaufmann and Wei's (1999) Stackelberg game between a tax authority and a firm that undergoes tax inspection. The model predicts that, when the authority can use its action as a credible threat for the firm's profitability, the authority disturbs the firm by inspecting more, and the firm is more likely to pay bribes. Consistent with the theoretical prediction, we find correlational evidence that the propensity to pay bribes increases with the number of inspection visits, particularly for non-democratic countries.
This edited volume explores the nature of authoritarian policing, its transformation and resilience, and its rule of law implications. The discussion of the evolution of policing takes place in the context of the overall development of the police, their professionalization, institutional autonomy and neutrality, legality, and their credibility within the communities they manage and serve. What makes policing “democratic” is a contested concept and the definition varies depending on the level of abstraction and the particular focus of the inquiry. While regime type, which is itself a contested concept, the close nexus between the coercive power of the police and the state, it is never dispositive. Thus, the dichotomous categorization of authoritarian policing (AP) and democratic policing (DP), while useful as a starting point for comparative analysis, misses a large amount of nuance and often overlooks the plurality of either system, neglecting the fact that a police system can be authoritarian or democratic in multiple ways and in different aspects of policing. This volume rejects this simple binary view. It aims to untie and unpack the nexus between the police and the political system and to explore the plurality of both AP and DP.
This chapter explores what can go wrong with investment migration. A program can actually be designed to promote the enrichment only of a circle of close associates of those in power. I unpack how this worked in the case in otherwise ‘anti-migration’ state of Hungary to show that generating FDI is of little help if investment migration, as practiced in a given jurisdiction, promotes international impunity by distributing citizenships to questionable individuals or aiding money laundering.
Chapter 1 is dedicated to the explanandum of the book. In a first step, the chapter asks how to conceptualize autocratic rule and how to delineate it from rivalling concepts like authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but also sultanism, tyranny, despotism, and dictatorship. In a second step, the chapter clarifies different understandings of stability: persistence vs. continuity. In a third step, the chapter establishes the rationale behind the two logics of autocratic rule. Drawing on a Schmittian conception of the political, over-politicization is portrayed as the process of ideologically inflating a (political, social, religious, ethnic, etc.) difference, thereby defining an absolute foe (hostis), thus justifying the usage of hard repression and relying on formal ways of co-optation. In contrast, de-politicization is the reverse process of neutralizing contested issues, pulling conflictive issues out of the political arena by emphasizing performance legitimation, shying away from hard, but using soft repression and by being indifferent in its forms of co-optation.