The Popularity of Authoritarian Leaders: A Cross-National Investigation
67 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016 Last revised: 29 Jul 2019
Date Written: October 29, 2017
While some dictators survive through terror, others seem genuinely popular. In what we believe is the first global study of political approval in non-democracies, we use the Gallup World Poll’s panel of more than 140 countries in 2006-16 to investigate the drivers of authoritarian leaders’ ratings. We argue that these differ across types of regime. As in democracies, economic performance matters in autocracies, and citizens’ economic perceptions, while not perfectly accurate, track objective indicators. Dictators also benefit from better perceptions of public safety. Approval is higher in non-democracies when media and Internet are restricted covertly, but ratings fall when citizens observe censorship. Although in brutal dictatorships repression may increase approval and reticence, in more moderate “informational autocracies” it appears to arouse more outrage than fear. In such autocracies, executive elections trigger a ratings surge if the leader changes, but — unlike in democracies — reelected autocrats enjoy at most a limited honeymoon.
Keywords: Political Economy, Political Approval
JEL Classification: P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation