Working Papers


  • Deng, Rex Weiye. Does Negative Propaganda against Foreign Rivals Cultivate Regime-Stabilizing Attitudes? Evidence from China. Available at SSRN.
Abstract Authoritarian regimes massively engage in "negative propaganda" that spreads disproportionately derogatory information defaming foreign rivals. Can such propaganda shape public opinion that stabilizes the regime? I argue that negative propaganda can arouse opposition to the democratic regime and democratic reform because it incites fear of the liberal regime, but it does not necessarily improve regime support. By analyzing over 800,000 Weibo posts from Chinese state-affiliated media, I show that negative propaganda has been consistently prevalent and potentially fear-inducing. With a survey experiment in China, I find that exposure to negative propaganda significantly lowers evaluations of the democratic regime and preference for democratic reform. It also induces fear, which substantially mediates the treatment effects. However, negative propaganda does not significantly improve evaluations of the domestic regime. These results contribute to the understanding of how emotions embedded in propaganda shape public opinion and how authoritarian regimes survive in a changing information environment.

State Capacity and Public Opinion

  • Carter, David, B. and Rex Weiye Deng. Does State-Led Development in Once Hard-to-Reach Places Cultivate Political Trust? Working Paper.
Abstract The most rugged and remote areas of contemporary states have historically had less state presence. Since the middle of the 20th century, most states have steadily increased their presence in these formerly ``ungoverned'' spaces. This increase in state presence involves increases in administrative capacity, the promotion of infrastructure, and development projects aimed to increase tax revenue and foster closer connections to the central government. Theoretical arguments about the consequences of increased state presence range from assertions that citizens in these areas resist and dislike the state, to the idea that state presence can increase trust in government and foster greater social trust among anonymous individuals. Lacking is much evidence over whether and how individual-level attitudes towards the state and fellow citizens are distinct in rugged areas of the state with contemporary development projects. We provide evidence on this front using detailed spatial data on terrain ruggedness, contemporary infrastructure developments, historical proxies for state penetration, and two different geographically specific surveys. We demonstrate that individuals in rugged areas with greater contemporary development footprints exhibit more trust in the central government and higher levels of social trust.

International Relations and Public Opinion

  • Charaniya, Amaan, Rex Weiye Deng, Dahjin Kim, Gechun Lin, William Nomikos, and ˙Ipek Ece S¸ener.Can Leaders Shape Public Opinion During a Foreign Policy Crisis? Evidcence from U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Working Paper.

    • Best Foreign Policy Paper Award, APSA (2022)
Abstract The general public greeted news of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending a two-decade long operation, with mixed reactions. In this paper, we describe the real-time reactions to the American withdrawal on Twitter. We trace and describe online discussions specifically about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by collecting a unique dataset of 7 million tweets. Instead of relying on a pre-determined group of users, we collect all tweets in the United States sent between August and September of 2021 that mention a list of keywords related to the withdrawal. This approach allows us to collect a comprehensive corpus of tweets related to the Afghan withdrawal. We then apply a semi-supervised machine learning algorithm to measure sentiment toward both the Trump administration, which began the withdrawal, and the Biden administration, which concluded it. We find that social media reactions to key events are rapid but transient. We observe no spikes but a steady increasing volume of negative Tweets after the United States completes the withdrawal process on August 31st.