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What Makes Anticorruption Punishment Popular? Individual-Level Evidence from China

How does punishment of corruption help to build public support in authoritarian regimes? We outline two primary mechanisms. Instrumentally, the ability to pursue anticorruption initiatives to the end signals government capacity. Deontologically, anticorruption punishment signals moral commitments. Through a novel experiment design for mediation analysis embedded in a series of conjoint experiments conducted in China, we find individual-level evidence to support both mechanisms. Specifically, we find that Chinese citizens positively view local government officials who punish their corrupt subordinates and that this positive view arises out of the perception that these officials are both competent in their jobs and morally committed to citizens’ value. The preference for anticorruption punishment is substantial compared to other sources of public support in authoritarian regimes—economic performance, welfare provision, and institutions for political participation—suggesting that it could become a popular strategy among autocrats.