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Ideology and Public Opinion in China


How do people living under authoritarian rule organize their beliefs about politics? Are their political preferences still organized along ideological lines? My research focuses on understanding the structure of mass attitudes under autocracy, using new data from China. I show that ideology in China is loosely organized around a left-right economic dimension and an authoritarian-democratic political dimension, and that the most politically sophisticated individuals are the least likely to constrain their ideological preferences to one dimension. Contrary to what we might expect, ideological polarization in China is largely absent at the mass level. In a second paper, I investigate the relationship between ideology and political participation. Using a spatial model of choice, I discover that for most Chinese, perceived government competence is a bigger factor than ideological distance in political participation. The implication of the model is that the diffuse nature of public preferences gives the Communist party a free hand to implement its policy initiatives without alienating key constituencies. The last paper explores the meaning of ideological labels in China, using three national surveys. I find that while many Chinese citizens are willing to locate themselves on a left-right scale, the labels left and right do not carry a consistent programmatic meaning. Further analysis reveals that the partisan and symbolic content of these ideological labels is also limited. I argue that the absence of a shared ideological understanding prevents Chinese citizens from exercising political agency.

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