Ash Center Researchers Release Landmark Chinese Public Opinion Study

July 9, 2020
Nanjing Pedestrian Road, a main shopping area, packed with people on a national holiday in Shanghai in 2014
Cambridge, MA—Researchers at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation today released a landmark study examining Chinese public opinion over a 13-year period, covering the policy impact of three government administrations. Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time, co-authored by Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jesse Turiel, presents findings from the longest-running independent effort to track Chinese citizen satisfaction of government performance. This new study for the first time provides an important long-term view of how Chinese citizens view their government at the national, as well as the regional and local levels in China.
Since the start of the survey in 2003 to its conclusion in 2016, Ash Center researchers found that Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before. “These strong satisfaction rates counter the argument that as China’s economy continued to expand and economic inequality increased, citizen satisfaction levels would drop as their relative demands increased,” said Cunningham, who serves as the director of the Center’s China Programs.
Despite China’s urban and coastal areas experiencing the highest rates of growth, the survey also found that more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction than their wealthier counterparts in China’s booming coastal cities. Yet concerns remain. The lower the level of government services examined, the lower the level of satisfaction reported. “Given that the majority of China’s goods and services are provided by local government, this persistent relative gap in satisfaction over time is an important finding,” stated Tony Saich, director of the Ash Center.
While the Ash Center researchers found that attitudes over the last decade and a half are broadly supportive of China’s government, the survey also revealed that citizen perceptions of government performance in China do in fact respond to most changes in individuals’ well-being. Cunningham concluded that the “CCP isn’t immune to shifting public opinion, especially in areas like corruption, environmental degradation, health, and overall standards of living.”

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About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation  

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.

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Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
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Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation