Crisis Management in an Authoritarian Regime: Media Effects During the Sichuan Earthquake
39 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 14 Dec 2013
Date Written: 2009
Exogenous shocks are said to play a key role in the breakdown of authoritarian regimes. This paper sheds light on the conditions under which crisis management play out to the advantage of authoritarian leaders, or not. By chance, a national probability survey of the Chinese population was conducted before and after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Based on a quasi-experimental design that allows us to match pre- and post-quake respondents, we find that citizens were highly responsive to media content. In the short run, a more open information policy helped shore up support for a government that exhibited a high degree of responsiveness to the crisis. We find, however, that this approach may have undermined the regime’s legitimacy. Whereas in the immediate aftermath of the quake the Chinese media emphasized political unity and harmony, over time increasing and unusual criticisms of local governments in the media eroded public confidence. Even though support for political unity and harmony increased immediately after the quake, it quickly dropped below pre-quake levels. Our results are robust both to matching and to more standard parametric specifications.
Keywords: authoritarian regimes, exogenous crises, public opinion, survey data, imputation, matching
JEL Classification: C42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation