“Government-Sponsored Information and Mass Perception in Autocracies: Evidence from an Information Correction Experiment on the COVID-19 in Kazakhstan” by Susumu Annaka, Masaaki Higashijima, & Gento Kato
September 8, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 am JST
Abstract: How do ordinary citizens respond to government-sponsored information in autocracies? Although the recent literature has pointed to the importance of information credibility in authoritarian regimes, we know little about the manners in which information disseminated by authoritarian governments affects citizens’ behavior and perception. Conducting a survey experiment on the COVID-19 in authoritarian Kazakhstan, this paper explores under what conditions public information on the pandemic changes citizens’ risk perception and behavioral precaution towards the virus. After asking respondents to estimate the number of infections and death tolls, we correct their guesses by the “true” statistics, randomly assigning either the Kazakh government or the World Health Organization (WHO) as a sponsor of the information. Respondent are then asked questions on their attitudes and behavioral intentions toward the COVID-19. We find that, when the Kazakh government sponsors the information, respondents who overestimated the situation of the pandemic are more likely to increase their risk perception and strengthen their health behavior after the exposure to the “true” statistics. This pattern is absent when WHO sponsors the same statistics. The results imply that the government-sponsored factual information in autocracies, if inconsistent with what the public is experiencing, can cause backlash. Citizens in autocracies may think as given that the government censors public information and adjust their behavior and perception in everyday life accordingly.