Political Demonstration Effects: Authoritarian Informational Statecraft and Public Support for Democracy

In this paper (co-authored with Meir Alkon, Fordham University) we develop and test the concept of ‘political demonstration effects’: the idea that information about a foreign country’s regime type and regime performance, whether positive or negative, may influence foreign publics’ attitudes towards democracy in general and support for democratic norms in their own country in particular. Authoritarian regimes increasingly use overseas propaganda and information campaigns to legitimize their model of governance, increase their political influence, reshape global narratives, and at times undermine democratic systems. Such information campaigns have the potential not just to affect great power competition but also to influence domestic political attitudes in target countries. In particular, we identify two different messaging strategies – Autocratic Advantage, which emphasizes the performance and procedural benefits of authoritarian governance, versus Democratic Disarray, which highlights the performance and procedural shortcomings of democratic governance – and compare their persuasiveness across four issue areas commonly discussed in authoritarian overseas propaganda. To test the effects on individual attitudes toward democracy, we conducted a survey experiment in three countries where democratic norms and institutions are present but contested: Brazil, India and South Africa.

Audrye Wong is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of Southern California.