Research / BFI Working PaperMay 17, 2023

The Dictator’s Dilemma: A Theory of Propaganda and Repression

A. Arda Gitmez, Konstantin Sonin

Repression and information manipulation are two main tools of any modern authoritarian regime. Our theoretical model demonstrates how repression and propaganda complement each other: when the regime’s opponents are facing stricter punishment, the effect of persuasion is stronger, and propaganda is used by the regime more heavily. Similarly, when repression eliminates those citizens who are relatively more skeptical about the regime, the rest can be more heavily influenced. Finally, we show that when citizens self-select into receiving information from individual sources, the dictator cannot do better than resorting to public messaging.

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