Erin Baggott - 2022
Erin Baggott Carter (赵雅芬) is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California and a Hoover Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. She is also a non-resident scholar at the UCSD 21st Century China Center. She has previously held fellowships at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and Center for International Security and Cooperation. She received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.
Dr. Carter's research focuses on Chinese politics and propaganda. Her first book, Propaganda in Autocracies (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press) explores how political institutions determine propaganda strategies with an original dataset of eight million articles in six languages drawn from state-run newspapers in nearly 70 countries. She is currently working on a book on how domestic politics influence US-China relations. Her other work has appeared in the British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Security Studies, and International Interactions. Her work has been featured by a number of media platforms, including the New York Times and the Little Red Podcast.
Her research has been supported by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, the Weatherhead Center for Inter-national Affairs at Harvard University, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.
Dr. Carter regularly tweets about Chinese politics and propaganda at @baggottcarter. She can be reached via email at baggott [at] usc.edu or ebaggott [at] stanford.edu.
Propaganda in Autocracies: Institutions, Information, and the Politics of Belief [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. The book is forthcoming in the Cambridge University Press series on the Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions.
Changing Each Other: US-China Relations in the Shadow of Domestic Politics [PDF]
China and the United States are not inevitably destined for conflict, but their domestic politics make it more likely, and so both governments seek security by changing the other from within. This book manuscript explains how.
In Part 1, I document how the United States and China use diplomacy to avoid the "Thucydides trap" that, according to some, structurally imperils US-China relations. I analyze original, day-level datasets of US-China interactions and US assessments of China drawn from 100,000 pages of Freedom of Information Act requests. Chinese diplomacy, I find, improves American perceptions of China and increases bilateral cooperation. This suggests that Sino-American conflict is not inevitable, even during moments of mutual suspicion.
In Part 2, I show how domestic politics in China and the US have consistently destabilized the bilateral relationship and made each side less secure. In China, the paramount leader must satisfy elite demands for patronage. When economic downturns threaten his ability to do so, he routinely initiates diversionary conflict with the United States to generate a "rally around the flag" "effect. Some 40% of Chinese-initiated conflict with the United States, I show, is diversionary. In the US, legislators have electoral incentives to support anti-China legislation, which elicits hostility while generally failing to secure meaningful change in Chinese trade policies, military behavior, and domestic repression.
Both governments understand that the other's domestic politics threatens their security, and so, in Part 3, I show how they change the other from within. Using data from the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I show that Chinese lobbying compels lawmakers to support pro-China legislation and makes American media less likely to cast China as an adversary. Using data on broadcast areas for the Voice of America and writings from former Chinese Fulbright scholars, I show that America's cultural outreach efforts have fostered protests and built constituencies for democratic change.
A PDF version of the book precis appears above.