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Information Manipulation and Reform in Authoritarian Regimes*


We develop a theory of how an authoritarian regime interactively uses information manipulation, such as propaganda or censorship, and policy improvement to maintain social stability. The government can depict the status quo policy more popularly supported than it actually is, while at the same time please citizens directly by enacting a costly reform. We show that the government’s ability of making policy concessions reduces its incentive to manipulate information and improves its credibility. Anticipating a higher chance of policy concessions and less information manipulation, citizens are more likely to believe the government-provided information and support the regime. Our model provides an explanation for the puzzling fact that reform coexists with selective information disclosure in authoritarian countries like China.

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Jidong Chen is an Assistant Professor in the Beijing Normal University Business School, Rear Main Building, Beijing Normal University, 19 Xinjiekouwai St., Beijing 100875, China; Visiting fellow, Wallis Institute of Political Economy, University of Rochester, 107 Harkness Hall, Box 027-0158, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA ( Yiqing Xu is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Mass. Ave, E53-470, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA ( The authors are indebted to Jonathan Hanson, Mehdi Shadmehr and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
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