What Makes Governments Popular?

Sergei Guriev (Scienes Po)
Daniel Treisman (UCLA)

Abstract: Why are some governments popular with their citizens while others get low ratings? International surveys show enormous variation. In what we believe to be the first systematic, global, comparative study of political approval, we examine a panel of government ratings from up to 128 countries, spanning all continents, and including both democracies and authoritarian states, over the years 2006-2014. We find that economic performance is robustly correlated with higher approval in both democracies and non-democracies. War, the leader’s time in office, the electoral cycle, and certain other factors are also important. We find evidence that wider internet access reduces government approval in non-democracies, but that in such countries censorship of the internet and the press is associated with higher ratings. We did not find any clear relationship with repression, suggesting that if fear inflates ratings in non-democracies, this may be offset by the dissatisfaction with government that repression also causes.