Regime Changes

Kevin Lewis

May 09, 2022

From Court Fools to Stage Puppets: Country Bumpkins in the Skits on CCTV's Spring Festival Gala, 1983–2022
Hongjian Wang
China Quarterly, forthcoming

The satiric skits (xiaopin) on the annual Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television (CCTV) are arguably the most popular performances in the most-watched show on the most-censored television channel in China in the reform era. Through witty satire of emerging social problems, these performances help the audience to relieve anxieties accumulated in a fast-changing society. In particular, country bumpkin characters play a crucial role in providing a platform for the populace and the state to meet, contest, negotiate and compromise. However, they suddenly disappeared after Xi Jinping took power in 2012, which, examined in the context of socialist comedy, signals a new stage of China's post-socialist condition. 

What’s in a name? Experimental evidence of the coup taboo
Sharan Grewal & Drew Holland Kinney
Democratization, forthcoming

Leaders of military coups routinely deny that their actions amount to a coup, often labelling them as revolutions or even constitutional successions. These attempts to muddy the waters occasionally succeed in prompting discussions over whether the military’s actions truly amount to a coup. But does the label matter? Does public support for military intervention decrease when it is labelled a coup? If so, how large is this “coup taboo”? In this article, we provide the first empirical evidence of the coup taboo across three large-scale survey experiments in Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia. Across all three countries, we find that the coup taboo is substantial, with support for the military hypothetically removing the president falling by 15–50 percentage points when labelled as a coup. These results underscore the importance of labels, and suggest that anti-coup norms may be superficial, decreasing support for military interventions only when labelled as coups. 

Education or Indoctrination? The Violent Origins of Public School Systems in an Era of State-Building
Agustina Paglayan
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

Why do modern states regulate and provide mass education? This article proposes a theory of education as a state-building tool that is deployed when mass violence threatens the state’s viability. Experiencing mass violence can heighten national elites’ anxiety about the masses’ moral character and raise concerns about the efficacy of repression or concessions alone to maintain social order. In this context, a mass education system designed to teach obedience can become an attractive policy tool to prevent future rebellion and promote long-term order. Consistent with the theory, I detect a cross-national pattern of primary education expansion following civil wars in Europe and Latin America. In a complementary study of the 1859 Chilean civil war, I show that the central government responded by expanding primary schooling in rebel provinces not as a concession but to teach obedience and respect for authority. The theory helps explain why nondemocracies often expanded mass education. 

Discrimination and Defiant Pride: How the Demand for Dignity Can Create Slack for Poor Governance
Mashail Malik
Harvard Working Paper, February 2022

Why do poorly governing ethnic parties persist? Dominant approaches to ethnic voting explain this persistence by arguing that core supporters receive material benefits in exchange for loyal support. In this paper, I argue that within-group variation in continued support for ethnic parties is not explained by such instrumental theories. Instead, I show that core supporters remain loyal in the face of poor governance because of dignity concerns. Those in-group members who face more discrimination from state arms dominated by other ethnic groups are also those who place a higher value on the provision of group status through descriptive representation. As a result, these subgroups are also more willing to trade-off good governance with descriptive representation. This creates a perverse incentive for ethnic parties to under-serve their most loyal supporters. Because individuals from lower social classes are more exposed to state discrimination, this means that those who would benefit most from improvements in public goods and services are also (1) least likely to see these improvements, and (2) most likely to forgive ethnic parties for failing to address bread and-butter issues. This argument is supported by ethnographic, descriptive, and experimental evidence from the megacity of Karachi, Pakistan. 

The relationship between affective polarization and democratic backsliding: Comparative evidence
Yunus Emre Orhan
Democratization, forthcoming

Why do voters vote for undemocratic politicians in a democracy? My chief contention is that affective polarization has become a primary factor driving support for undemocratic politicians. Once partisan identification turns into a salient identity in the hierarchy of group affiliations, it has the potential to widen inter-party distances. Such a political environment fosters positive beliefs of their preferred party and negative beliefs of the other party, which promote political cynicism, intolerance and increase partisan loyalty. As a result, crossing party lines becomes costly, even when incumbents violate democratic principles or incumbents’ economic policies do not appeal to supporters’ interests. This tradeoff enables undemocratic politicians to evade electoral sanctions for undemocratic behaviour. I created an extended version of Reiljan’s affective polarization application. The new dataset covers affective polarization scores of 53 countries calculated over 170 national election surveys. I find that increasing affective polarization is highly correlated with democratic backsliding, less accountability, less freedom, fewer rights, and less deliberation in democracies. However, ideological polarization has shown no correlation. 

Clans and calamity: How social capital saved lives during China's Great Famine
Jiarui Cao, Yiqing Xu & Chuanchuan Zhang
Journal of Development Economics
, forthcoming


This paper examines the role of social capital, embedded in kinship-based clans, in disaster relief during China's Great Famine (1958–1961). Using a county-year panel and a difference-in-differences strategy, we find that the rise in the mortality rate during the famine years is significantly less in counties with a higher clan density. Analysis using a nationally representative household survey corroborates this finding. Investigation of potential mechanisms suggests that social capital's impact on famine may have operated through enabling collective action against excessive government procurement. These results provide evidence that societal forces can ameliorate damages caused by faulty government policies in times of crisis. 

Rebel on the Canal: Disrupted Trade Access and Social Conflict in China, 1650–1911
Yiming Cao & Shuo Chen
American Economic Review, May 2022, Pages 1555-1590

This paper examines the effects of the abandonment of China's Grand Canal — the world's largest and oldest artificial waterway — which served as a disruption to regional trade access. Using an original dataset covering 575 counties over 262 years, we show that the canal's abandonment contributed to the social turmoil that engulfed North China in the nineteenth century. Counties along the canal experienced an additional 117 percent increase in rebelliousness after the canal's closure relative to their non-canal counterparts. Our findings highlight the important role that continued access to trade routes plays in reducing conflict. 

Feudal Contradictions between Communist Allies: Deng Xiaoping, Kim Il-Sung, and the Problem of Succession, 1976–1984
John Delury
Journal of Cold War Studies, Spring 2022, Pages 4–28

In the late 1970s, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea arrived at contradictory answers regarding the question of succession, testing the strength of bilateral ties at a complex moment in the two countries’ domestic politics and in the Cold War. Blaming the excesses of Maoist radicalism on “feudal thinking,” Deng Xiaoping launched a campaign in the summer of 1980 to “eliminate feudalism” from the Chinese Communist Party and elevate a new generation of leaders. Just a few months later, at the Sixth Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party, Kim Il Sung went public with what Deng saw as the ultimate “feudal” act: a plan to pass down the role of Supreme Leader to his eldest son, Kim Jong Il. By scrutinizing the public record and secret transcripts of Sino-Korean diplomacy, this article traces the origins of their contradictory approaches to political succession and the evolution of Deng's response to Kim's plan from disapproval to acquiescence. 

Foreign Occupation and Support for International Cooperation: Evidence from Denmark
Lasse Aaskoven
World Politics, April 2022, Pages 285-325

A growing literature investigates how historical state repression affects later political outcomes, but little attention has been given to whether violence during foreign occupation affects support for international cooperation. This article investigates this issue by analyzing the 1972 Danish referendum on membership in the European Economic Community (EEC) — an organization seen at the time as being dominated by Germany. The analysis shows that municipalities that experienced more German-inflicted violence during the German occupation of Denmark (1940–1945) in World War II had a higher rate of no votes in this referendum. This effect seems to have worked through increased support for Danish far-left parties that were associated with the Danish resistance movement and that actively used anti-German sentiment in their campaigns against EEC membership. The results suggest that foreign-inflicted violence can be a substantial hindrance for popular support for international cooperation and that political parties play an important role in translating historical grievances into mass political behavior. 

Domesticity and Political Participation: At Home with the Jacobin Women
Sandrine Bergès
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

The exclusion of women from political participation and the separation of private and public spheres seem anchored in human history to such an extent that we may think they are necessary. I offer an analysis of a philosophical moment in history, the early years of the French Revolution, where politics and domesticity were not incompatible. I show how this enabled women to participate in politics from within their homes, at the same time fulfilling their duties as wives and mothers. The republican home, on this interpretation, was a place of power and virtue, a merging of the public and the private sphere where political ideals and reforms could be born and nurtured. This conception of the home was derived in great part from a reading of Rousseau’s writings on motherhood. As the influence of French revolutionary women became more visible, they were severely repressed. The fact that they could not hold on to a position of power that derived naturally from the ideals they and others defended, I will suggest, was caused both by the fact that the framework used to allow women political power was insecure, and by the gradual replacement of republican ideals by liberal ones. 

The Paradox of the Heavy-Handed Insurgent: Public Support for the Taliban among Afghan Pashtuns
Karl Kaltenthaler, Arie Kruglanski & Austin Knuppe
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, forthcoming

Afghanistan is a profoundly insecure country, with a very high rate of insurgent violence affecting large swathes of the population. Despite contributing to physical and economic insecurity across the country, Taliban insurgents have succeeded in creating what we call the “paradox of the heavy-handed insurgent.” Insurgents use attacks on government-controlled areas to generate public support by fostering a reputation for effective security provision for the civilian population under its control. For civilians who have a strong unmet need for physical security – especially those in rural and contested communities – heavy-handed insurgents are preferable to government forces who are perceived as either incompetent or unwilling to provide governance. We test this argument using data from the 2018 Asia Society Survey of the Afghan People. We find that the most important factor driving sympathy for the Taliban among Afghan Pashtuns is their sense of insecurity where they live. This indicates that an insurgent group that wears down government forces and weakens their ability to provide public goods and services can actually benefit by appearing as the more viable alternative for governance despite their heavy-handed tactics. 

Economic shocks and militant formation
Iris Malone
Research & Politics, April 2022

A prominent debate in the civil war literature asks whether commodity price shocks incentivize fighting, but existing analyses find inconsistent results. This paper shows these results arise, in part, because research conflates the decision to form a militant campaign with the start of civil conflict. Using original data on 973 militant groups, I sequentially disaggregate between civil conflict onset and the earlier stage of militant mobilization. I use fixed effect regression methods to test for indirect and interaction effects that could obscure the shock-civil conflict relationship. First, I estimate the effect of export commodity price shocks on mobilization onset. Second, I re-examine the shock-civil conflict relationship conditioning on the number of militant groups mobilizing at the time of the shock. The results show economic shocks indirectly increase the risk of civil conflict by driving militant formation. Disaggregating these stages of militant activity advances research about two-stage conflict processes as well as the indirect causes of violence.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.