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Gauging Preference Stability and Ideological Constraint under Authoritarian Rule

Why do authoritarian regimes like China devote resources to gathering information about the policy preferences of the public? We argue that if the public exhibits stable, multi-dimensional preferences, authoritarian regimes have incentives to gather information about these preferences in order to divide and rule and guard against elite competition. By conducting two online, longitudinal surveys, we show that in China, policy preferences are indeed multi-dimensional, stable, and predictable over time. We use multiple items to measure preferences in six policy domains: political liberalism, market economy, nationalism, traditionalism, social equality, and ethnic accommodation. We observe only moderate correlations between political liberalism, market economy, nationalism, and traditionalism, which implies multi-dimensionality. Preferences for all issue areas except social equality exhibit relatively high levels of intertemporal stability and predictability over a one-month period comparable to what is seen in competitive electoral democracies. Those with higher levels of education and political knowledge have more stable preferences. We provide guidance on how to measure these relatively coherent and temporally stable preferences, or ideology, using surveys.

wp2003.pdf (2.28 MB)
Jennifer Pan
Yiqing Xu
Publication Date
November, 2020