How Propaganda Manipulates Emotion to Fuel Nationalism: Experimental Evidence from China
30 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2020
Date Written: January 6, 2020
Influential studies depict propaganda as a heavy-handed tool with limited persuasive power. By contrast, we argue that propaganda can effectively manipulate emotions and cause durable changes in nationalist attitudes. We conduct a series of experiments in which we expose over 6,800 respondents in China to propaganda videos drawn from state-run newscasts, television dramas, and state-backed social media accounts, each containing nationalist messages favored by the Chinese Communist Party. Exposure to nationalist propaganda increases anger as well as anti-foreign sentiment and behavior, with heightened anti-foreign attitudes persisting up to a week, even after anger has cooled. However, we find that nationalist propaganda has no effect on perceptions of Chinese government performance or self-reported willingness to protest against the state. Our findings suggest that nationalist propaganda can manipulate emotions and anti-foreign sentiment, but does not necessarily divert attention from domestic political grievances.
Keywords: Authoritarian politics, nationalism, propaganda, political psychology, emotions, media, China, experiment
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