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“A Warning from Above: Why Authoritarian Anti-Protest Propaganda Works” by Mai Truong and Minh Trinh

October 14, 2020 @ 9:00 am 10:00 am JST

Authors: Mai Truong (University of Arizona) & Minh Trinh (MIT)

Abstract: When faced with unfolding protests, autocrats frequently respond with anti-protest propaganda that is loaded with negative narratives about protesters. However, as this form of propaganda is often crude and the average citizen at least minimally sophisticated, a growing body of literature has suggested that it is ineffective at changing the public’s view of the protests at best and may even backfire at worse. We offer a different explanation for why anti-protest propaganda remains popular among autocrats. Through an innovative survey experiment design to conduct mediation analysis, we show that anti-protest propaganda deters support for protests by influencing the audience’s beliefs about government’s intention and capacity much more than it does by shaping their perception of the protesters’ legitimacy. This evidence suggests that, even when it fails at discrediting protesters, anti-protest propaganda still serves as an effective warning, credibly signaling the government’s commitment and ability to punish protesters and their supporters.

Discussants: Chen Xi (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Peter Lorentzen (University of San Francisco).

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