Opium for the Masses: How Foreign Media Can Stabilize Authoritarian Regimes
Type of work: Article (academic)
Categories:Politics and Political Science
In this case study of the impact of West German television on public support for the East German communist regime, we evaluate the conventional wisdom in the democratization literature that foreign mass media undermine authoritarian rule. We exploit formerly classified survey data and a natural experiment to identify the effect of foreign media exposure using instrumental variable estimators. Contrary to conventional wisdom, East Germans exposed to West German television were more satisfied with life in East Germany and more supportive of the East German regime. To explain this surprising finding, we show that East Germans used West German television primarily as a source of entertainment. Behavioral data on regional patterns in exit visa applications and archival evidence on the reaction of the East German regime to the availability of West German television corroborate this result.