Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Allow Citizens to Voice Opinions Publicly?
Journal of Politics, Forthcoming
61 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2013 Last revised: 5 Sep 2016
Date Written: September 1, 2016
Why would an authoritarian regime allow citizens to voice opinions publicly if the exchange of information among citizens spurs social instability as has been often alleged? We show that an authoritarian regime can strengthen its rule by allowing citizens to communicate with each other publicly. From the government's perspective, such communication has two interrelated functions. First, if public communication reveals a shared feeling of dissatisfaction towards the government among citizens, the government will detect the danger and improve policies accordingly. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, public communication disorganizes citizens if they find themselves split over policies. We show that the government allows public communication if and only if it perceives sufficient preference heterogeneity among citizens. The model also illustrates that public communication could serve as a commitment device ensuring government responsiveness when it faces high dissatisfaction, which in turn makes the government better off than with private polling.
Keywords: Authoritarian Governance, Public Communication, Horizontal Communication, China
JEL Classification: D7, D8
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation