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Opium for the Masses: How Foreign Free Media Can Stabilize Authoritarian Regimes

Author

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  • Kern, Holger
  • Hainmueller, Jens

Abstract

A common claim in the democratization literature is that foreign free media undermine authoritarian rule. No reliable micro-level evidence on this topic exists, however, since independent survey research is rarely possible in authoritarian regimes and self-selection into media consumption complicates causal inferences. In this case study of the impact of West German television on political attitudes in communist East Germany, we address these problems by making use of previously secret survey data and a natural experiment. While most East Germans were able to tune in to West German broadcasts, some of them were cut off from West German television due to East Germany's topography. We exploit this plausibly exogenous variation to estimate the impact of West German television on East Germans' political attitudes using instrumental variable estimators. Contrary to conventional wisdom, East Germans who watched West German television were more satisfied with life in East Germany and the communist regime. To explain this surprising finding, we demonstrate that West German television's role in transmitting political information not available in the state-controlled communist media was insignificant and that television primarily served as a means of entertainment for East Germans. Archival material on the reaction of the East German regime to the availability of West German television corroborates our argument.

Suggested Citation

  • Kern, Holger & Hainmueller, Jens, 2007. "Opium for the Masses: How Foreign Free Media Can Stabilize Authoritarian Regimes," MPRA Paper 2702, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:2702
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/2702/1/MPRA_paper_2702.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Leonardo Bursztyn & Davide Cantoni, 2016. "Tear in the Iron Curtain: The Impact of Western Television on Consumption Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(1), pages 25-41, March.
    2. Ruben Enikolopov & Maria Petrova & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2011. "Media and Political Persuasion: Evidence from Russia," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3253-3285, December.
    3. Hennighausen, Tanja, 2015. "Exposure to television and individual beliefs: Evidence from a natural experiment," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 956-980.
    4. Alexander Libman, 2012. "Learning to Be Different: Quantitative Research in Economics and Political Science," Rationality, Markets and Morals, Frankfurt School Verlag, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, vol. 3(62), December.
    5. Stefano Della Vigna & Ruben Enikolopov & Vera Mironova & Maria Petrova & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2014. "Cross-Border Media and Nationalism: Evidence from Serbian Radio in Croatia," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 103-132, July.
    6. Bruno Frey, 2011. "Tullock challenges: happiness, revolutions, and democracy," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 148(3), pages 269-281, September.
    7. Prat, Andrea & Strömberg, David, 2011. "The Political Economy of Mass Media," CEPR Discussion Papers 8246, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    instrumental variables; causal inference; local average response function; media effects; East Germany; democratization;

    JEL classification:

    • F50 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - General
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements

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