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Social Policy and Regime Legitimacy: The Effects of Education Reform in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2014

Texas A&M University
Xiaobo Lü is Assistant Professor, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, 4220 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843. Tel: (979) 845–6510. (


Elites often use social policies to garner political support and ensure regime survival, but social policies are not a silver bullet. Using two waves of Chinese national surveys, I find that a recent policy of abolishing school fees has significantly increased citizens’ demand for greater government responsibility in financing compulsory education. I argue that policy awareness, rather than policy benefits, drives citizens’ demand. Finally, I show that policy awareness has enhanced citizens’ trust in China's central government, but not in local governments. This asymmetry in regime support has two sources—the decentralization of education provision and biased media reporting—which induce citizens to credit the central government for good policy outcomes. Given that citizens’ responses are primarily influenced by policy awareness that is promoted by the state media, this study casts doubt on the use of social policies to sustain long-term political support.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2014 

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