Self-Censorship in Authoritarian States: Response Bias in Measures of Popular Support in China

40 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2018 Last revised: 25 Apr 2018

See all articles by Darrel Robinson

Darrel Robinson

Uppsala University - Department of Government

Marcus Tannenberg

Göteborg University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 1, 2018

Abstract

The study of popular support for authoritarian regimes, and the comparative study of political attitudes, has long relied on the assumption that survey respondents provide truthful answers on surveys. However, when measuring regime support in closed political systems there is a distinct risk that individuals are less than forthright due to fear that their opinions may be made known to the public or the authorities. In order to test this assumption, we conducted a novel web-based survey in China in which we included four list experiments of commonly used items in the comparative literature on regime support. We find systematic bias for all four measures as a result of selfcensorship; substantially more individuals state that they support the regime with direct questioning than do when presented with our anonymous, indirect list experiments. The level of self-censorship, which ranges from 16 to 22 percentage points, is considerably higher than previously thought. Selfcensorship is further most prevalent among the wealthy, urban, female and younger respondents. These findings indicate that prior studies that have found high levels of support for the Chinese regime using these particular measures likely overestimate the true level of support. Further, crossnational studies which compare popular support across regime type may be systematically biased if responses are not subject to the same level of falsification across regime types.

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Darrel and Tannenberg, Marcus, Self-Censorship in Authoritarian States: Response Bias in Measures of Popular Support in China (April 1, 2018). V-Dem Working Paper 2018:66. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3161915 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3161915

Darrel Robinson (Contact Author)

Uppsala University - Department of Government ( email )

Gamla Torget 2
Uppsala
Sweden

Marcus Tannenberg

Göteborg University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 711
Göteborg, S-405 30
Sweden

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