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Juking the Stats? Authoritarian Information Problems in China

Abstract

Economic statistics inform citizens of general conditions, while central leaders use them to evaluate local officials. Are economic data systematically manipulated? After establishing discrepancies in economic data series cross-nationally, this article examines Chinese sub-national growth data. It leverages variation in the likelihood of manipulation over two dimensions, arguing that politically sensitive data are more likely to be manipulated at politically sensitive times. Gross domestic product (GDP) releases generate headlines, while highly correlated electricity production and consumption data are relatively unnoticed. In Chinese provinces, the difference between GDP and electricity growth increases in years with leadership turnover, which is consistent with juking the stats for political reasons. The analysis points to the political role of information and the limits of non-electoral accountability mechanisms in authoritarian regimes.

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Department of Political Science, Ohio State University (email: wallace.521@osu.edu). The author wishes to thank Marcus Kurtz, Sarah Brooks, Irfan Nooruddin, Ohio State's Political Economy Working Group, Eva Bellin and Jessica Weiss, as well as Pu Xiaoyu and Jennifer Mayer for research assistance. Online appendices and replication files are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi: 10.1017/S0007123414000106.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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