The Popularity of Authoritarian Leaders: A Cross-National Investigation

67 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016 Last revised: 29 Jul 2019

See all articles by Sergei Guriev

Sergei Guriev

Sciences Po; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Daniel Treisman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 29, 2017

Abstract

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

Guriev, Sergei and Treisman, Daniel, The Popularity of Authoritarian Leaders: A Cross-National Investigation (October 29, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2882915 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2882915

Sergei Guriev (Contact Author)

Sciences Po ( email )

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris Cedex 07, 75337
France

HOME PAGE: http://econ.sciences-po.fr/staff/sergei-guriev

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Daniel Treisman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science ( email )

405 Hilgard Ave.
3265 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472
United States
650-725-8556 (Phone)
650-723-1687 (Fax)

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