Does Negative Propaganda against Foreign Rivals Cultivate Regime-Stabilizing Attitudes? Evidence from China
37 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2023 Last revised: 12 Sep 2023
Date Written: September 11, 2023
Authoritarian regimes massively engage in "negative propaganda" that spreads disproportionately derogatory information defaming foreign rivals. Can such propaganda shape public opinion that stabilizes the regime? I argue that negative propaganda can arouse opposition to the democratic regime and democratic reform because it incites fear of the liberal regime, but it does not necessarily improve regime support. By analyzing over 800,000 Weibo posts from Chinese state-affiliated media, I show that negative propaganda has been consistently prevalent and potentially fear-inducing. With a survey experiment in China, I find that exposure to negative propaganda significantly lowers evaluations of the democratic regime and preference for democratic reform. It also induces fear, which substantially mediates the treatment effects. However, negative propaganda does not significantly improve evaluations of the domestic regime. These results contribute to the understanding of how emotions embedded in propaganda shape public opinion and how authoritarian regimes survive in a changing information environment.
Keywords: propaganda, public opinion, fear, emotions, authoritarian regime, China
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