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Authoritarian Audiences: Theory and Evidence for Subnational Propaganda Targeting in North Korea

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We argue that authoritarian regimes engage in subnational propaganda targeting in pursuit of political survival. Drawing on an original dataset of propaganda collected inside North Korea, we show that the regime tailors messaging to elites and masses differently. We outline a schema of strategies and themes that authoritarian regimes utilize when crafting propaganda, theorize variations in their use, and test these variations empirically, using qualitative analysis, regression, and text analysis. We demonstrate that the North Korean regime targets Pyongyang-based elites with co-optational messages promising economic benefit, while the masses receive mobilizational messages focused on agricultural productivity. North Korean propaganda also legitimates the regime differently based on audience: messages to elites reassure them of their privileged status but messages to the masses remind them of why their sacrifices are necessary.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2023

This article was made available online on May 25, 2023 as a Fast Track article with title: "Authoritarian Audiences: Theory and Evidence for Subnational Propaganda Targeting in North Korea".

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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