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Bread and Circuses: Sports and Public Opinion in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2019

Dan Chen*
Department of Political Science, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173, USA
Andrew W. MacDonald*
Department of Political Science, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, Jiangsu, China
*E-mails:; Twitter: @profdanchen;; Twitter: @profandrewm
*E-mails:; Twitter: @profdanchen;; Twitter: @profandrewm


Sports victory constitutes an important part of propaganda in authoritarian states. The heavy state investment in sports industries and sports culture in China illustrates the political importance of sports. However, few studies have systematically examined the exact impact of sports propaganda on public opinion. Using a survey experiment conducted in two Chinese cities, this article finds that broadcast highlighting national sports achievements has significant positive effects on general satisfaction and compliance with the local governments. These results expand on the small, but growing, literature on the effects of sports on political opinions and help detail the specific ways in which sports can affect political attitudes.

Research Article
© The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019 

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Support for this research was provided by the University of Louisville Center for Asian Democracy. The authors thank Le Tan and Wenbin Li for their assistance in fielding the experiment and the following people for providing helpful feedback: Jason Gainous, Rongbin Han, John James Kennedy, and the participants of the Harvard-MIT-BU Chinese Politics Research Workshop. All errors remain the responsibility of the authors. The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: (Chen and MacDonald, 2019). The experiment was approved by the institutional review board at the University of Louisville. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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