Evaluating Determinants of Political Legitimacy in China

By Sukrit S. Puri. Princeton University.

Despite being an authoritarian and often repres- sive regime, the Chinese government enjoys the support of 70 percent of its population. This paper tries to make sense of this support by engaging literature on political legitimacy to evaluate which competing hypotheses about political legitimacy best apply to the Chinese context. Defining political legitimacy as an attitude of diffuse support of the government by the citizenry, this paper constructs a political legitimacy index, and then tests income and education levels’ ability to determine the variation in attitude towards the government. This paper finds a significant negative relationship between education and political legitimacy, while also finding no evidence of a link between income and political legitimacy. Tested together, this paper finds that the education effect weakly dominates over and above its well-documented causal effect on income, likely because the more educated an individual is, the more of a role she demands in the political process. These results have significant policy implication for Beijing as it weighs the effects of a more educated yet critical populace that cannot be appeased by just ensuring increasing incomes.

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