Keeping Your Head Down: Public Profiles and Promotion Under Autocracy

Journal of East Asian Studies, Forthcoming

46 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2015

See all articles by Dimitar D. Gueorguiev

Dimitar D. Gueorguiev

Syracuse University - Department of Political Science

Paul J. Schuler

University of Arizona

Date Written: November 5, 2015


During the most recent party congresses in China and Vietnam, two highly anticipated candidates for promotion were sidelined. In China, Bo Xilai was arrested for corruption and stripped of his party membership. In Vietnam, Nguyen Ba Thanh remained a provincial leader with little opportunity for promotion to the Politburo. Existing arguments about promotions under authoritarian rule are unable to explain these outcomes. In particular, both candidates were competent and well connected. This cuts contrary to the expectations of both performance-based promotion and factional promotion theories. We argue that these candidates were sidelined due to a previously under-theorized factor in promotion contests — their ability to mobilize personal followings. In a literature that has focused almost exclusively on intra-elite conflict, we argue that elite-mass linkages are critical. In particular, the public profile of top leaders is important for regime legitimacy and mobilization. However, when an individual becomes exceptionally well known they become a threat to the single-party system. We test this argument on promotions in China’s 18th Party Congress in 2012 and Vietnam’s 11th Party Congress in 2011 using original data on Internet search queries and media coverage among contenders for promotion. Our approach offers new insights into the strategies authoritarian politicians use to stay afloat as well as the mistakes that sink them when competing for power under one-party rule.

Keywords: China, Vietnam, authoritarian, autocracy, single-party, political institutions, performance, elite politics

JEL Classification: D7

Suggested Citation

Gueorguiev, Dimitar D. and Schuler, Paul J., Keeping Your Head Down: Public Profiles and Promotion Under Autocracy (November 5, 2015). Journal of East Asian Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Dimitar D. Gueorguiev (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - Department of Political Science ( email )

100 Eggers Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
3154430309 (Phone)

Paul J. Schuler

University of Arizona ( email )

Department of History
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

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