Erin Baggott - 2018
  • Biography [CV]

    Erin Baggott Carter (赵雅芬) is an Assistant Professor at the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, where she is also a Co-PI at the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics. She received a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and was previously a Fellow at the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation.

    Dr. Carter's research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and propaganda. She recently completed a book on autocratic propaganda based on an original dataset of five million articles in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish drawn from state-run newspapers in nearly 70 countries. She is currently working on two other book projects: one on the domestic sources of US-China relations, and one that exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act to explore the role of autocratic money in American Politics. She regularly tweets about Chinese foreign policy and propaganda at @baggottcarter. She can be reached via email at

  • Autocratic Propaganda in a Globalized World [TOC]

    In 1918, fresh from the experience of World War 1, the United States Army articulated its views of propaganda in a 210-page book. "Thoughts," it observed, "are bullets," and the United States' rivals in World War 1 had invested as much into honing their propaganda apparatuses as they had their secret police. As bullets, the thoughts of their citizens are profoundly threatening to the world's autocrats. "As long as people think that the dictator's power is secure," Gordon Tullock, wrote, "it is secure." When citizens think otherwise, all at once, then a dictator's power is anything but. The 20th century's great totalitarian dictatorship, after all, was brought down by little more than a sudden shift in its citizens' beliefs.

    This conviction - that their power rests ultimately on their citizens believing in it - has long compelled the world's autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda apparatuses. Chinese Paramount Leader Mao Zedong routinely edited editorials in the People's Daily, and even referred to propaganda as "the most important job of the Red Army." After the Russian Duma reduced RT's annual budget from $380 million in 2011 to $300 million in 2012, President Vladimir Putin prohibited further reductions. In the Republic of Congo, President Denis Sassou Nguesso even hired a a Frenchman, Jean-Paul Pigasse, to oversee Les Depeches de Brazzaville, the regime's propaganda newspaper. Pigasse was previously a senior figure at several widely respected French publications and is reportedly very well compensated, a central figure in Sassou Nguesso's money laundering operation.

    In this book, we present the largest dataset of cross-national propaganda yet assembled. Our dataset of state-run newspapers contains over five million unique articles drawn from nearly 70 countries in six of the world's major languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using a range of novel computational methods, we show that the world's autocrats employ dramatically different propaganda strategies: in their coverage of the regime and the political opposition, in their narratives about domestic and international conditions, and in the threats they issue to citizens.

    Why do the world's autocrats employ such strikingly different propaganda strategies? The answer, we show, is that different autocrats employ propaganda to achieve different ends. Levitsky and Way (2010) famously observed that some autocrats are more bound by electoral constraints than others. Some autocrats, in short, are more constrained in their ability to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor, either because their recourse to repression is limited by international pressure or because they confront domestic institutions or pressure groups that bind them. When autocrats are electorally constrained, they must seek some amount of popular support, and so employ propaganda to persuade citizens of regime merits. To be persuasive, however, propaganda apparatuses must have some amount of credibility in the eyes of citizens. To build credibility, in turn, propaganda apparatuses must concede their own failures. They must cover economic crises and persistently high infant mortality rates. By contrast, where autocrats confront no electoral constraints -- where autocrats can fully secure themselves with repression -- propaganda serves not to persuade citizens, but to intimidate them into submission. Propaganda derives its power from its absurdity. By forcing citizens to consume content that everyone knows to be false -- indeed, to be seen consuming it by their numbers -- autocrats employ propaganda to ensure their capacity for repression is common knowledge among citizens.

    The table of contents appears above. A summary of the book appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of the APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter.

    Domestic Sources of US-China Relations

    This book manuscript argues that the United States and China employ diplomacy to secure international cooperation, but that their domestic politics render it more elusive.

    International relations theory regards talk as cheap. It argues that states cannot employ verbal communication to overcome structural conditions that ostensibly favor conflict. Can a security-seeking state use diplomacy to affect another’s assessment of shared interests and elicit substantive cooperation? To answer this question, Part I of the book analyzes original datasets of US-China diplomatic exchanges and American assessments of shared interests with China. As diplomats have long observed, diplomacy is a forum for states to exchange concessions that render both sides better off. Chinese diplomacy improves American assessments of shared interests and increases the probability of bilateral cooperation.

    Part II explores how China's domestic politics destabilize the bilateral relationship. Using novel data on elite financial transfers, it shows that the prospect of elite leadership challenges caused by economic hardship may be responsible for as much as 40% of China's conflict initiation toward the United States, as the leader takes steps to inoculate himself against elite challenges with popular nationalism. It then explores how China and Taiwan influence American foreign policy by lobbying members of Congress, the White House, and the press.

    Part III documents how American domestic politics destabilize the bilateral relationship. Using an original dataset of congressional hostility toward China, it shows that China penalizes the president for congressional hostility by reducing its willingness to cooperate by a factor of four. The majority of congressional hostility toward China can be traced to economic conditions in members' home districts and to members' electoral incentives, rather than genuine foreign policy concerns. Finally, it probes how American radio propaganda and human rights pressure affect Chinese foreign policy and political behavior in China.

    Autocrats and their Lobbyists:
    The Politics of Foreign Influence

    Governments around the world invest billions of dollars each year to shape American policy. Under contract to foreign governments – and, accordingly, acting on their behalf – Washington lobbyists meet with American lawmakers, fund their congressional campaigns, draft the legislative bills they sponsor, pressure the executive branch and agencies, disseminate media kits to leading newspapers, and build policy alliances among stakeholders.

    Which of the word’s governments invest most heavily in Washington lobbyists? Why? When? What do they get in return? Drawing on fieldwork in Central Africa and East Asia, our central argument is that Washington lobbying is a critical tool for the world’s worst governments to advance their domestic political interests. Moreover, we suspect that lobbying works: that the world’s autocrats routinely purchase a measure of international immunity from domestic human rights violations.

    To explore its hypotheses more systematically, this book draws on an original dataset of all lobbying activities ever undertaken by foreign governments in the United States since 1945. The database exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires all agents who represent foreign principals to file detailed activity reports every six months. These activity reports, referred to as Supplemental Statements, are then made available on a website, which FARA requires the US Department of Justice to maintain. These Supplemental Statements include wealth of information: every penny foreign governments transfer to Washington lobbyists, every contact that Washington lobbyists undertake with American government officials and media outlets on the foreign government’s behalf, every campaign contribution Washington lobbyists make while under contract, and much more. Once completed, this dataset will offer the first complete, fully searchable history of foreign lobbying in the United States. We intend to maintain the dataset in real time, long after the book is completed.

  • Articles and Working Papers

    The Politics of Propaganda in Autocracies. With Brett L. Carter. [PDF] Comparative Politics Newsletter, Fall 2018.

    Propaganda and Protest: Evidence from Post-Cold War Africa. With Brett L. Carter. [PDF] Revise and resubmit, Journal of Conflict Resolution.

    Focal Moments and Popular Protests in Autocracies: Evidence from China. With Brett L. Carter. [PDF] Under review.

    Autocratic Propaganda in Comparative Perspective (Book Summary Paper). With Brett L. Carter. [PDF] Under review.

    When Autocracies Threaten Citizens with Violence: Evidence from China. With Brett L. Carter. [PDF] Under review.

    Diversionary Cheap Talk: Domestic Discontent and US Foreign Policy. [PDF] Under review.

    Diversionary Aggression and Elite Welfare Shocks in Autocracies: Evidence from China. [PDF] [Online Appendix] Under review.

    Questioning More: RT, America, and the Post-West World Order. With Brett L. Carter and Megan Angulo. Under review.

    The Influence of Congress upon America’s China Policy.

    Comparing Print and Television Propaganda: Methodological and Substantive Differences. With Brett Carter.

    Small Events in High Politics: Diplomacy and Trust in US-China Relations.

    Explaining Foreign Coverage in the New York Times. With Brett L. Carter and James Fearon.

    Chinese Nationalists in their Own Words. With Alastair Iain Johnston and Kai Quek.


    Domestic Influences on Chinese Foreign Policy. Brookings Institution, 2018.

    Chinese State-Run Media Favors Clinton Over Trump. Washington Post, 2016.

  • Courses

    China in International Affairs, 2016 (Syllabus)

    China has been interacting with the world for millennia. No course can attempt a meaningful synthesis of that history in one semester. Therefore it is useful to begin with what this course is not. It is not a history course, nor is it a course on China’s domestic politics (though they often influence its international affairs in decisive ways). Instead, this course aims to explain China’s contemporary engagement with the world. To do so, it draws upon historical cases, empirical evidence, and international relations theory. Part I of the course presents students with theoretical tools and historical background on China’s foreign relations. Part II introduces the domestic political institutions that shape China’s engagement with the world. Part III focuses on China’s economic relations with the world. Part IV focuses on China’s political-military relations with major powers and multilateral organizations. The course concludes by asking, does China have a grand strategy in international affairs? If so, what is it, who is responsible for crafting it, and how successful has it been?

    The Political Economy of China, 2017, 2018, 2019 (Syllabus)

    This course surveys the political economy of China. It begins with China’s political institutions and its economic history from pre-revolutionary times to the present. It then explores China’s rural and urban economies, private sector, local governments, income inequality, social welfare provision, and macroeconomic planning. It next turns to China’s international trade and foreign investment. It concludes with a review of China’s demographic trends and environmental issues. Throughout the course, we will focus on the changing role of state-society relations. To what degree has political reform accompanied economic reform? Is the state increasingly accountable to citizens? Or has China become trapped in a partial reform equilibrium in which elite interests impede further liberalization? An introductory economics course is a helpful, but not required, precursor to this course.

    Chinese Foreign Policy, 2017, 2018 (Syllabus)

    This advanced undergraduate seminar explores contemporary issues in Chinese foreign policy. It explores how Chinese policymakers pursue their goals: through diplomacy, force, trade, propaganda, and normative appeals to soft power. The course asks students to consider a number of important questions. To what degree can leading international relations theories explain China’s behavior abroad? Given the broad spectrum of Chinese political actors — the paramount leader, political elites, the military, and the public – whose preferences are influential, and when? What role do geographic features, economic interests, and secessionist movements play? Does China have a grand strategy, and if so, what is it? The course presumes familiarity with the basic contours of Chinese history and politics.

    Chinese Foreign Policy (Graduate), 2017, 2018 (Syllabus)

    This graduate level seminar reviews the political science literature on the international relations of China. It asks students to apply analytical tools from international relations and comparative politics to China, including approaches that involve systemic theories, identity, ideology, domestic factors, and psychology. In particular, it focuses on how China’s domestic conditions – political and economic, as well as popular and elite – motivate its foreign policy. Methodologically, the course reviews case study, archival, survey, field, and computational approaches to studying China. The course presumes familiarity with basic qualitative and quantitative methods in political science. It aims to prepare students to conduct original research on Asian security issues, international relations, and comparative politics.

    Historical Approaches to International Relations, 2017, 2018 (Syllabus)

    This course is an introduction to the modern international system. It begins with the early principles of American foreign policy. It examines the origins of World War I and why the Wilsonian moment crumbled into isolationism and depression. It explores the rise of fascism and the sources of World War II. It discusses how the United States and Europe constructed the post-war order. It examines the politics of the Cold War and the atomic age. It reviews the fall of the Berlin Wall and what followed: the unique moment known as the “end of history” characterized by rising living standards and the spread of democracy across the globe. The final part of the course reviews the evidence for the return of history: the “clash of civilizations” thesis, the War on Terror, the politics of autocracy in China and Russia, and institutional decay and anti-globalist backlash in the United States and Europe. The course concludes with a discussion of the far right in comparative perspective and the role of propaganda in contemporary world politics.

  • Upcoming and Recent Talks


    When Autocracies Threaten Citizens: Evidence from China


    San Diego, CA


    Autocratic Propaganda in Comparative Perspective

    Southern California Methods Conference

    Los Angeles, CA


    When Autocracies Threaten Citizens: Evidence from China


    Boston, MA


    The Politics of Propaganda in Autocracies


    Boston, MA


    When Autocracies Threaten Citizens: Evidence from China

    Politics and Computational Social Science, Northeastern

    Boston, MA