Chinese leaders are less popular than they think: fear of a snowball

Archive image of the head of the Chinese regime, Xi Jinping (EFE) (LUONG THAI LINH / POOL/)

Chinese leaders have no qualms about using intimidation and force to stay in power. But Communist Party He also affirms that he deserves to govern because he governs well and has the support of public opinion. Officials allude to decades of impressive economic growth and a series of opinion polls that researchers from the Harvard University They were carried out between 2003 and 2016. In the last one, more than 90% of Chinese were satisfied with the game. In 2020, Hua Chunyingspokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, boasted that “Such high approval ratings exceed the wildest dreams of American politicians.”.

Measure public opinion in China it’s hard. Foreign companies are prohibited from conducting surveys in the country. Chinese pollsters tend to avoid tricky topics, although some work with Western researchers (that’s how harvard conducted his study). Regardless of who asks the questions, respondents may not share their real opinions for fear of retaliation. Researchers of the University of Southern California and of the Hoover Institution of the Stanford University have attempted to get around this problem by using a survey method called the “list experiment.” Their findings, published this month, suggest that the Communist Party has fewer followers than previously thought.

List experiments guarantee the anonymity of respondents. The researchers divided the participants in their survey (conducted online) into two groups. Those in the first were shown three anodyne statements, such as “I consider myself a sports fan”. Those in the second group were shown the same three items plus a sensitive statement, such as “I support the leadership of Comrade Xi Jinping” either “China’s government system is better than any other I can think of”.

Respondents in both groups were then asked how many statements they agreed with, without having to identify them. This allowed them to indirectly express their political opinions. By subtracting the mean of the first group from that of the second, the researchers were able to estimate the proportion of respondents who agreed with the sensitive statement.

The results suggest that when the survey was conducted in June and November 2020, between 50% and 70% of Chinese supported the party. (This is an upper limit, the researchers say, because concerns about online surveillance may still have scared some respondents into giving positive answers.) About half of respondents disagreed that the Chinese government system was the best. Almost 40% claimed to have “fear of consequences” to protest against the State. Support for Xi It was between 65% and 70%.

His approval rating has likely dropped since then. The policy of “zero tolerance” of Xi It angered many Chinese, who grew tired of the constant controls and confinements. When the government finally abandoned controls at the end of 2022, analysts predicted a big rebound in economic activity. But Consumers remain pessimistic and many young Chinese have difficulty finding work.

Although it has fallen, the valuation of Xi could remain the envy of Western politicians. A measly 33% of Americans approve of the job the President is doing Joe Biden, according to a recent survey. Still, the study’s results could worry Chinese leaders. He Communist Party it is based on the presumption that the public thinks it is overwhelmingly popular. If disaffected citizens believe they are a small minority, they are less likely to discuss political issues, let alone resist the party. But if they believe there are many others like them, dissent can snowball, he says. Erin Baggott Carterauthor of the study.

This dynamic helps explain the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989. For years, residents of the region who spoke to social scientists hid their discontent with local leaders for fear of being punished. When they finally realized that their anger was widespread, opposition movements grew rapidly. A survey conducted four months after the fall of the Berlin Wall He asked the East Germans if they had seen him coming. Three-quarters of those surveyed said he had completely surprised them.

There are no indications that the Chinese Communist Party is about to face a revolution. But party officials are well versed in history. TO XiIn particular, he is haunted by the fall of the Soviet Union. He orders his propagandists to “adhere to the correct orientation of public opinion.” Doing so, he says, is a matter of national security.

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