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A difficult test for hard propaganda: Evidence from a choice experiment in Venezuela


Lutscher, Philipp M; Donnay, Karsten (2024). A difficult test for hard propaganda: Evidence from a choice experiment in Venezuela. Journal of Peace Research:1-17.

Abstract

Propaganda plays a key role in maintaining power in authoritarian regimes. Previous research finds that overt, crude, and heavy-handed messaging, so-called hard propaganda, can be used to effectively convey government strength and deter citizens from joining anti-regime protests in relatively stable autocratic regimes like China. Yet, it is unclear if this is also true in more contested and unstable autocratic contexts. In these settings, citizens are more likely to question such messaging and prior beliefs of government strength vary more widely. We explore the perception of hard propaganda in one such difficult test case for hard propaganda: the crisis-ridden Maduro regime in Venezuela. We measure perceptions of hard propaganda among the public using an online survey that featured a choice experiment in which respondents chose between and rated different propaganda images against more neutral political communication. Our results show that respondents perceived hard propaganda images as stronger compared to neutral political communication. This holds true – contrary to our pre-registered expectations – regardless of whether respondents overall perceived the government as strong or weak. Moreover, respondents reported a lower willingness to join anti-government protests but, at the same time, had a greater motivation to challenge the regime. These results support and extend prior findings on the effectiveness of hard propaganda in deterring anti-regime activities to the case of contested and unstable autocracies. But they also suggest that this kind of messaging erodes regime legitimacy providing the first evidence outside of the Chinese case of the pathology of hard propaganda.

Abstract

Propaganda plays a key role in maintaining power in authoritarian regimes. Previous research finds that overt, crude, and heavy-handed messaging, so-called hard propaganda, can be used to effectively convey government strength and deter citizens from joining anti-regime protests in relatively stable autocratic regimes like China. Yet, it is unclear if this is also true in more contested and unstable autocratic contexts. In these settings, citizens are more likely to question such messaging and prior beliefs of government strength vary more widely. We explore the perception of hard propaganda in one such difficult test case for hard propaganda: the crisis-ridden Maduro regime in Venezuela. We measure perceptions of hard propaganda among the public using an online survey that featured a choice experiment in which respondents chose between and rated different propaganda images against more neutral political communication. Our results show that respondents perceived hard propaganda images as stronger compared to neutral political communication. This holds true – contrary to our pre-registered expectations – regardless of whether respondents overall perceived the government as strong or weak. Moreover, respondents reported a lower willingness to join anti-government protests but, at the same time, had a greater motivation to challenge the regime. These results support and extend prior findings on the effectiveness of hard propaganda in deterring anti-regime activities to the case of contested and unstable autocracies. But they also suggest that this kind of messaging erodes regime legitimacy providing the first evidence outside of the Chinese case of the pathology of hard propaganda.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
08 Research Priority Programs > Digital Society Initiative
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Uncontrolled Keywords:authoritarian politics, contentious politics, propaganda, survey experiment, Venezuela
Language:English
Date:19 February 2024
Deposited On:21 Feb 2024 11:14
Last Modified:31 Mar 2024 01:41
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:0022-3433
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/00223433231220269
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)