Erin Baggott - 2019
Erin Baggott Carter (赵雅芬) is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. There, she is also a Co-PI at the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics. She received a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and was previously a Fellow at the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Dr. Carter's research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and propaganda. She recently completed a book on autocratic propaganda based on an original dataset of eight million articles in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish drawn from state-run newspapers in nearly 70 countries. She is currently working on a book on how domestic politics influence US-China relations. Her research has been supported by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.
Dr. Carter regularly tweets about Chinese foreign policy and propaganda at @baggottcarter. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Propaganda in Autocracies [PDF]
"As long as people think that the dictator's power is secure," Gordon Tullock wrote, "it is secure." When citizens think otherwise, all at once, a dictator's power is anything but, as Timur Kuran and Susanne Lohmann observed after the Soviet Union's collapse. This conviction -- that power rests ultimately on citizens believing in it -- has long compelled the world's autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda apparatuses. This book draws on the first global dataset of autocratic propaganda, encompassing eight million newspaper articles from 70 countries in six languages. We document dramatic variation in propaganda across autocracies: in coverage of the regime and its opponents, in narratives about domestic and international life, in the threats of violence issued to citizens, and in the domestic events that shape it.
Why does propaganda vary so dramatically across autocracies? The answer, put simply, is that different autocrats employ propaganda to achieve different ends. Most autocrats now govern with nominally democratic institutions: regular elections, national parliaments, and opposition parties. Some autocrats are more constrained by these institutions than others, either because their recourse to repression is limited by international pressure or because they confront domestic institutions or pressure groups that bind them. Where these electoral constraints are relatively binding, autocrats must curry some amount of popular support, and so they employ propaganda to persuade citizens of regime merits. To be persuasive, however, propaganda apparatuses must cultivate the appearance of neutrality, which requires conceding bad news and policy failures. Where electoral constraints are binding, we find, propaganda apparatuses cover the regime much like Fox News covers Republicans.
Where autocrats confront no electoral constraints -- where autocrats can fully secure themselves with repression -- propaganda serves not to persuade citizens, but to dominate them. Propaganda derives its power from its absurdity. By forcing citizens to consume content that everyone knows to be false, autocrats make their capacity for repression common knowledge. Propaganda apparatuses engage in absurdly positive pro-regime coverage, while pretending opposition does not exist. Narratives about a country's contemporary history are presented in absurd terms, for these absurdities give them power. Citizens are told that their countries are envied around the world, crime does not exist, ``democracy" is alive and vibrant, and that the dictator is a champion of national sports. Propaganda apparatuses routinely and explicitly threaten citizens with violence.
Students of autocratic politics generally regard nominally democratic institutions as forces for stability and regime survival as secured through patronage and repression. Our approach is different. We view nominally democratic institutions as constraints that autocrats attempt to loosen and citizens' beliefs as the key battlefield on which the struggle for political change is waged. Most broadly, we show that even weak electoral constraints force autocrats to wage the battle for citizens' beliefs from a position of weakness. To persuade citizens of their regimes' merits, electorally constrained autocrats must acknowledge policy failures that risk confirming citizens' frustrations and facilitating collective action. We draw from a range of disciplines to illustrate how. Our theory is informed by field research in China and Central Africa. We use computational tools to collect and measure propaganda, statistical and network techniques to analyze it, and case studies to bring it to life. Many of these case studies are of intrinsic historical importance. We explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda apparatus uses Donald Trump as a propaganda tool, why the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) propaganda is more effusive than any point since the Cultural Revolution, why Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali publicized his regime's failures before becoming the Arab Spring's first casualty, and why Cameroonian President Paul Biya produces different propaganda in English and French.
The table of contents and first chapter appear above. A summary of the book project appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of the APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter. The book is currently under review.
US-China Relations in the Shadow of Domestic Politics [PDF]
How do states establish trust and cooperation in the midst of the security dilemma? If they succeed, what dangers to bilateral stability remain? To answer this question, Part I of the book analyzes original, day-level datasets of US-China interactions and US assessments of China drawn from nearly 100,000 pages of Freedom of Information Act requests. It finds that Chinese diplomacy improves American perceptions of China and increases the probability of bilateral cooperation. This is powerful evidence that conflict is far from inevitable in US-China relations.
However, the bilateral relationship has consistently been destabilized by domestic politics. This is the focus of Part II. In China, the leader faces incentives to initiate diversionary conflict when political elites suffer financial losses. Using novel data on elite financial transfers, it shows that the prospect of elite leadership challenges caused by economic hardship may be responsible for as much as 40% of China's conflict initiation toward the United States. In the United States, members of Congress confront electoral incentives to pass legislation hostile toward Chinese interests. However, there is little evidence that congressional pressure has changed Chinese trade, security, or human rights practices.
US and Chinese policymakers know about these domestic sources of instability, and so they attempt to manipulate each other's domestic politics. Part III documents these strategies and how their success is conditioned by the structure of the two states' political systems. To do so, it combines a complete record of Chinese lobbying in the United States coded from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database with data on congressional policy on China and media coverage of China. The evidence suggests that members of Congress who are lobbied by the Chinese government are five to seven times as likely to sponsor pro-China legislation. American media outlets that participate in trips sponsored by the Chinese government become far more likely to cover China's positive contributions to the global economy than the threat posed by its geopolitical competition. In contrast, American democracy promotion efforts in China have failed to change the policies of the Chinese government.
An annotated table of contents appears above.