Framing Democracy: Identifying China's Anti-Democratic Propaganda Using Word Embeddings

In reference to the COVID-19 Pandemic, this graphic from China’s state media is a clear example of negative legitimation. It describes the American response as overwhelmingly arrogant while in contrast China responded quickly to inform its people of the virus’s threat. Source: People’s Daily


There is a large and growing literature on how authoritarian regimes use pro-government propaganda to enhance their survival. However, there has been little research on how regimes use propaganda to manipulate beliefs about other regime types. In particular, do state media agencies in autocracies, such as China, frame the politics of democratic countries as chaotic to diminish the perceived benefits of democracy to their citizens? To measure this framing effect, I employ a novel semi-supervised algorithm that uses word embeddings to obtain keywords that represent targeted concepts — such as politics and chaos — and measures how similar these keywords are to one another across country-publication level subcorpora. With these measures of media framing, I assess whether there is a difference in framing across countries according to regime type using fixed effects regression analysis. I find that as countries become more democratic China’s state media portrays their politics as being more chaotic relative to a baseline news publication.

Paper Received a revise and resubmit offer from Comparative Political Studies
Patrick J. Chester
Patrick J. Chester
Phd Candidate (ABD)

Patrick Chester is a PhD candidate at New York University’s Politics Department.