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Self-censorship of regime support in authoritarian states: Evidence from list experiments in China

Journal article
Authors D. Robinson
Marcus Tannenberg
Published in Research & Politics
Volume 6
Issue 3
ISSN 2053-1680
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords Political support, self-censorship, list experiment, response bias, China, political trust, quality, Government & Law
Subject categories Political Science


The study of popular support for authoritarian regimes has long relied on the assumption that respondents provide truthful answers to 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; substantially more individuals state that they support the regime with direct questioning than when presented with our indirect list experiments. The level of self-censorship, which ranges from 24.5 to 26.5 percentage points, is considerably higher than previously thought. Self-censorship is further most prevalent among the wealthy, urban, female and younger respondents.

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