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The Logic of Authoritarian Political Selection: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2018


Political selection is important to authoritarian regime survival. Although selection outcomes are often observed, it is difficult to decipher elites’ logic of decision-making due to their multidimensional preference and the opaque process. Employing a conjoint experiment conducted among over 300 government officials in China, this paper unpacks multidimensional elite preference in entry-level political selection. It finds that while elites comply with institutional norms by selecting candidates based on competence and loyalty, they also take into account personal preference by favoring those with political connections. Kinship ties to government increase a candidate’s chance by over 20 percentage points, even though the candidate is not deemed more competent or loyal. These findings demonstrate that authoritarian elites do not always follow the logic of regime survival; there exists an agency problem in political selection that could undermine the effectiveness of the ruling class over time.

Original Articles
© The European Political Science Association 2018 

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Hanzhang Liu is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, New York, NY 10027 ( Earlier versions of the article were presented at MPSA Annual Conference 2016, Fudan-UC Young Scholars Conference 2016, and APSA Annual Meeting 2016. The research was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Columbia University under protocol IRB-AAAP6302. The author thanks Andrew Nathan, Michael Ting, Timothy Frye, Kimuli Kasara, John Marshall, Yiqing Xu, Victor Shih, Pierre Landry, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



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