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The Popularity of Authoritarian Leaders: A Cross-National Investigation

55 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016 Last revised: 30 Oct 2017

Sergei M. 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 between 2006 and 2016 to investigate the drivers of authoritarian leaders’ ratings. As in democracies, economic performance matters, and citizens’ economic perceptions, while not perfectly accurate, track objective indicators. Dictators also benefit from higher perceived public safety. Information manipulation evidently works: governments are more popular where the press is restricted and the Internet censored or not broadly accessible. However, ratings fall when citizens recognize censorship. As in democracies, executive elections trigger a ratings surge if the leader changes, but—unlike in democracies—reelected autocrats enjoy little or no honeymoon. Although repression might inflate approval in extremely brutal regimes, we found no relationship in the non-democracies surveyed, perhaps because outrage offsets fear.

Keywords: Political Economy, Political Approval

JEL Classification: P16

Suggested Citation

Guriev, Sergei M. 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)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
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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