Political context and citizen information: Propaganda effects in China

Dan Chen, Elizabethtown College


Propaganda is integral to authoritarian rule. Yet, questions remain regarding what propaganda content is effective at influencing which opinions and to whom. Using an original online survey experiment conducted in China, this study finds that although propaganda is ineffective with average Internet users, it persuades highly informed participants when reality validates its messages. The propaganda treatments enhance opinions on government performance in several issue areas, including anticorruption and the economy, for participants who are politically informed. Propaganda thus sways opinions when real-world changes lend support, which necessitates a certain level of acquired information. These results suggest the limits of propaganda while specifying conditions for its effects.