Does China's Regime Enjoy 'Performance Legitimacy'? An Empirical Analysis Based on Three Surveys from the Past Decade
34 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
The aim of this paper is to examine the evidence for the hypothesis that the legitimacy of the China's political regime depends mainly on performance (D. Zhao 2009; Zhu 2011). We test the hypothesis using three nationwide public opinion surveys. The first two were conducted as part of the Asian Barometer in 2002 and 2007-8. The third, commissioned by the authors , was completed from November 2012 to January 2013.
Two dependent variables are deployed as alternate measures of legitimacy: a composite index of trust in political institutions and agreement with the proposition that Our form of government is still the best for us.
The concept of “performance legitimacy” refers here to that part of legitimacy that can be explained by perceptions of government performance, including management of the national economy. As alternative explanations, we consider: “values-based legitimacy” emerging from normative positions on questions concerning social relations and the role of government; and “exposure-acceptance legitimacy” emerging from processes of habituation and indoctrination. We also include controls for respondents’ personal circumstances.
We use ordinary least squares and multinomial logistic regressions to test models of regime support. We analyse the relative explanatory power of the four groups of variables corresponding to the hypotheses and controls. We also test for interactive effects between performance and the other groups.
We started out sceptical of the notion of “performance legitimacy” except as part of a composite explanation of regime support. However, we find that whilst composite models have the most explanatory power, performance is the strongest element. The presentation of new data from the 2012-13 survey offers an indication of long-term trends. Political trust is becoming more moderate and support for the political system more variable. The growing importance of political relative to economic performance, as well as the emergence of value cleavages which structure regime support, suggest the regime may become vulnerable to an erosion of support if it fails to carry out reforms aimed at building a kind of political democracy.
Keywords: legitimacy, China, regime support, performance, political trust
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