From Internet to Social Safety Net: The Policy Consequences of Online Participation in China
78 Pages Posted: 28 May 2017 Last revised: 19 Dec 2018
Date Written: May 26, 2017
Internet-based platforms are increasingly being used by governments around the world to facilitate public engagement with citizens. However, it remains an open question whether participation through these platforms can actually enable citizens to influence policies. We address this question by studying the patterns and consequences of online participation at a major electronic petition platform in China, a country with the world's largest Internet-using population. Content analysis of over 900,000 petitions reveals that a substantial share of them concern lower-class issues and are originated from less developed rural and suburban areas. Linking variations in petition volumes to an original dataset of government policy priorities, we further show that online participation led governments to place greater emphasis on social welfare policies and to increase the coverage of a key low-income assistance program. These results underscore the potential of online participation as an important mechanism to improve the quality of governance.
Keywords: participation, inequality, internet, authoritarian regime, China
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