The Popularity of Authoritarian Leaders: A Cross-National Investigation
55 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016 Last revised: 30 Oct 2017
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 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: Suggested Citation