China's Delegitimizing Election Coverage: Identifying a Negative Legitimation Strategy in China's Foreign Election Media Coverage

Abstract

Elections are highly salient events, not just to citizens who participate but also to foreign observers. For citizens of many authoritarian regimes with constrained media environments, their understanding of democratic elections can be entirely mediated by their consumption of state media. Autocracies have a powerful incentive to use their control over this information to shape perceptions of democratic institutions in a way that makes their regime appear relatively acceptable. Moreover, it is in their interest to focus their negative coverage on foreign elections that are likely salient to their citizens. In this study, I investigate whether the state media of a particular autocracy, China, strategically shapes its coverage of democratic elections to make democratic institutions appear less desirable. To this end, I analyze China’s state media coverage of autocratic and democratic elections using a three-way fixed effects identification strategy. Additionally, I contrast China’s media coverage with a baseline media agency based in Taiwan. I find significant evidence that not only does China’s state media cover democratic elections more negatively than illiberal elections, it also focuses its negative coverage on highly salient executive elections.

Patrick J. Chester
Patrick J. Chester
Postdoctoral researcher at the China Data Lab at UC, San Diego

Patrick Chester is a postdoctoral researcher at the China Data Lab at UC, San Diego who received his PhD from New York University’s Politics Department.

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