Transparency for Authoritarian Stability: Open Government Information and Contention with Institutions in China
34 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2022 Last revised: 23 Feb 2023
Date Written: June 20, 2022
It is widely agreed that authoritarian governments conceal or censor information in order to maintain social stability. However, does transparency necessarily increase mass threats? Many non-democracies have recently adopted open government information (OGI)—a policy transparency measure allowing citizens to identify illegal government behaviors that affect them. Based on the Chinese case, I theorize that policy transparency can redirect popular discontent from the streets to institutional dispute resolution venues such as the courts. Using online and in-the-field survey experiments about OGI on land-taking compensation, I show that OGI improves citizens’ preference for legal and political institutions and causes them to prioritize institutions over protest when they have grievances against government. Multiple findings suggest that this is because the evidence of local misbehavior increases their perceived fairness of institutions for dispute resolution. This study shows that, unlike macro-level information transparency, policy transparency mitigates the risk of protest in an autocracy.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation