Propaganda, Presumed Influence, and Collective Protest

Political propaganda can reduce citizens’ inclinations to protest by directly influencing their preferences or beliefs about the government. However, given that protest is risky in authoritarian societies and requires collective participation, propaganda can also reduce citizens’ inclination to protest by making them think that other citizens, rather than themselves, may have been influenced by propaganda and are, as a result, unwilling to protest. We test this indirect mechanism of propaganda using a survey experiment with Chinese internet users from diverse backgrounds and find that they do believe propaganda affects other citizens’ support for and beliefs about the government more than their own support and beliefs. Moreover, they believe that propaganda reduces other citizens’ willingness to protest, which in turn reduces their own willingness to protest. Therefore, the power of propaganda may sometimes lie more in the social perceptions and uncertainty it creates than in its direct individual effects.

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License CC BY
DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-021-09683-0
Type Journal Articles
C-ID POLS 130 - Comparative

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