Contrary to the idea of democracy’s inherent popularity, the Chinese government’s efforts to convince other countries’ citizens of the appeal of its political and economic systems can be very effective, according to a new study published as a pre-print on Open Science Framework Pre-Prints.
The data collected measured preferences for economic model, political model and choice of “world leader” and found that Chinese state media content focusing on China’s economic model was most successful at favorably shifting respondents’ preferences to China in all three areas, compared to Chinese content focusing on its political model. Additionally, both types of content outperformed U.S. state media content in shifting people’s preferences when placed in direct competition with it.
There are important caveats to these effects. The U.S. content was also found to successfully shape respondents’ preferences for the U.S. and its systems when given exclusive access to them, albeit to a lesser degree. Furthermore, respondents began with more favorable views toward the U.S. than China, which the study says may suggest the “United States has less room to grow its support due to ceiling effects, while there is ample room for growth in support of the Chinese system.”
Nevertheless, the study showed that when exposed exclusively to Chinese content, the shift in preference could in some circumstances be significant enough to entirely overhaul an initial U.S. preference lead. Strikingly, 16% of respondents exposed to a placebo preferred the Chinese economic model over the American model, while 54% of respondents who were exposed exclusively to Chinese media content came out preferring the Chinese model.
This Chinese success came from focusing on “government performance” rather than “values,” according to the study. Dan Mattingly, lead author and an assistant professor of Political Science at Yale University, summarized on Twitter: “The punchline: The [Chinese Communist Party’s] global media efforts convince viewers that the party delivers growth, stability, and competence.” Supplementary questions found that respondents did not begin to believe that China was a democracy, or that civil liberties and democracy were not valuable, but they “found the Chinese government’s self-professed ability to select competent leaders, foster growth, maintain stability, and respond to citizen demands make the system attractive.” In other words, authoritarianism can be tolerated if convincing alternatives to the disappointments of capitalism — and to a lesser extent democracy — can be highlighted.
In line with this, the study also sheds light on the idea that Chinese messaging is more effective in some places than others. Messaging from China was most successful in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, where the prospect of a “shared developmental trajectory” with China is seen as most appealing. This may explain the Chinese government’s focus on these areas when looking to expand the reach of its state media.
Overall, the study concludes that the recent downturn in global public opinion towards China may not be permanent if populations receive “sufficient exposure to Chinese government media messaging about the performance of its authoritarian model.” It is in some ways, then, a warning against American exceptionalism, or capitalist exceptionalism, or democratic exceptionalism.
Respondents for the study came from the following 19 countries, across six continents: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The total number of respondents was 6,276, with an average of 330 per country.
Respondents were asked a series of survey questions to indicate their preference for a Chinese or U.S.-style political model in their own country, a Chinese or U.S.-style economic model in their own country, and for China or the U.S. as world leader. Answers operated on a six-point scale. Respondents were then split into four groups: A control group that viewed two nature videos unrelated to China, the U.S., or political economy; a China media group that watched four videos produced by Chinese state media; a U.S. media group that viewed four videos produced by U.S. state media; and a “competition” group that viewed two videos each from the U.S. and China. They were then asked the questions again and the answers compared.
For U.S. content, representative video samples were taken from Voice of America, and regional grantee networks including Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and Middle East Broadcasting Networks. For Chinese content, representative video samples were taken from the China Global Television Network.
Image: OSF Prep-Print, Chinese State Media Persuades a Global Audience That the “China Model” is Superior: Evidence From A 19-Country Experiment, Creative Commons
Leave a Reply