Erin Baggott - 2019
Erin Baggott Carter (赵雅芬) is an Assistant Professor at the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, where 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 two other book projects: one on the domestic sources of US-China relations, and one that exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act to explore the role of autocratic money in American politics. She 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.
Domestic Sources of US-China Relations
This book manuscript argues that the United States and China employ diplomacy to secure international cooperation, but that their domestic politics render it more elusive.
International relations theory regards talk as cheap. It argues that states cannot employ verbal communication to overcome structural conditions that ostensibly favor conflict. Can a security-seeking state use diplomacy to affect another’s assessment of shared interests and elicit substantive cooperation? To answer this question, Part I of the book analyzes original datasets of US-China diplomatic exchanges and American assessments of shared interests with China. As diplomats have long observed, diplomacy is a forum for states to exchange concessions that render both sides better off. Chinese diplomacy improves American assessments of shared interests and increases the probability of bilateral cooperation.
Part II explores how China's domestic politics destabilize the bilateral relationship. 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, as the leader takes steps to inoculate himself against elite challenges with popular nationalism. It then explores how China and Taiwan influence American foreign policy by lobbying members of Congress, the White House, and the press.
Part III documents how American domestic politics destabilize the bilateral relationship. Using an original dataset of congressional hostility toward China, it shows that China penalizes the president for congressional hostility by reducing its willingness to cooperate by a factor of four. The majority of congressional hostility toward China can be traced to economic conditions in members' home districts and to members' electoral incentives, rather than genuine foreign policy concerns. Finally, it probes how American radio propaganda and human rights pressure affect Chinese foreign policy and political behavior in China.
Autocrats and their Lobbyists:
The Politics of Foreign Influence
Governments around the world invest billions of dollars each year to shape American policy. Under contract to foreign governments – and, accordingly, acting on their behalf – Washington lobbyists meet with American lawmakers, fund their congressional campaigns, draft the legislative bills they sponsor, pressure the executive branch and agencies, disseminate media kits to leading newspapers, and build policy alliances among stakeholders.
Which of the word’s governments invest most heavily in Washington lobbyists? Why? When? What do they get in return? Drawing on fieldwork in Central Africa and East Asia, our central argument is that Washington lobbying is a critical tool for the world’s worst governments to advance their domestic political interests. Moreover, we suspect that lobbying works: that the world’s autocrats routinely purchase a measure of international immunity from domestic human rights violations.
To explore its hypotheses more systematically, this book draws on an original dataset of all lobbying activities ever undertaken by foreign governments in the United States since 1945. The database exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires all agents who represent foreign principals to file detailed activity reports every six months. These activity reports, referred to as Supplemental Statements, are then made available on a website, which FARA requires the US Department of Justice to maintain. These Supplemental Statements include wealth of information: every penny foreign governments transfer to Washington lobbyists, every contact that Washington lobbyists undertake with American government officials and media outlets on the foreign government’s behalf, every campaign contribution Washington lobbyists make while under contract, and much more. Once completed, this dataset will offer the first complete, fully searchable history of foreign lobbying in the United States. We intend to maintain the dataset in real time, long after the book is completed.