“Big Tigers, Big Data”: Learning Social Reactions to China's Anticorruption Campaign through Online Feedback

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 4, pp. 500–513. © 2017 The
Authors. Public Administration Review
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf
of American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12866.
“Big Tigers, Big Data”:
Learning Social Reactions to Chinas Anticorruption
Campaign through Online Feedback
Dong Zhang is assistant professor at
Lingnan University. His research interests
include political economy of development,
authoritarian politics, corruption and
governance. He has published in
Comparative Political
E-mail: dongzhang@ln.edu.hk
Huang Huang is associate professor
in the School of Government at Peking
University and visiting associate professor in
Macao Polytechnic Institute. He is interested
in Chinese public policy, e-governance, and
social simulation.
E-mail: huanghuang@pku.edu.cn
Jiangnan Zhu is associate professor
of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the
University of Hong Kong. She is interested
in comparative political economy, especially
corruption and anticorruption in China. She
has published in multiple journals, including
Comparative Political Studies, Governance,
and the
Journal of Contemporary China
E-mail: zhujn@hku.hk
Jiangnan Zhu
University of Hong Kong
Huang Huang
Peking University and Macao Polytechnic Institute
Dong Zhang
Lingnan University
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
and is not used for commercial purposes.
Abstract: This article examines the effect of campaign-style anticorruption efforts on political support using the case of
China s most recent anticorruption drive, which stands out for its harsh crackdown on high-ranking officials, known
as “big tigers.” An exploratory text analysis of more than 370,000 online comments on the downfall of the first 100
big tigers, from 2012 to 2015, reveals that public support for the top national leader who initiated the anticorruption
campaign significantly exceeded that afforded to anticorruption agencies and institutions. Further regression analyses
show that support for the leaders with respect to intuitions increased with the tigers party ranking. Findings suggest
that while campaign-style enforcement can reinforce the central authority and magnify support for individual leaders,
it may also marginalize the role of legal institutions crucial to long-term corruption control .
Evidence for Practice
Public support is an important indicator to monitor during anticorruption campaigns, in addition to
corruption control.
To comprehensively understand public opinion, it is necessary to separate political support into multiple
Anticorruption campaigns can generally help boost public support, especially support for top leaders.
Policy makers ought to wield authority amassed through the campaign to promote institution building in
order to achieve desired policy outcomes in the long run.
Corruption has detrimental effects on both
economic well-being (Liu and Mikesell 2014 ;
Liu, Moldogaziev, and Mikesell 2017 ; Rose-
Ackerman 1999 ) and public trust in government
(Seligson 2002 ; Villoria, Van Ryzin, and Lavena
2013 ). Previous research has examined a wide array
of anticorruption strategies, such as increasing
government transparency (Brunetti and Weder 2003 ;
Cordis and Warren 2014 ), streamlining and reforming
government (Goel and Nelson 1998 ; Neshkova and
Kostadinova 2012 ), building strong anticorruption
agencies (Klitgaard 1988 ; Quah 2011 ), and improving
bureaucrats quality and integrity by promoting civil
servants material incentives and intrinsic motivation
(Azfar and Nelson 2007 ; Perry 1996 ; Perry and
Hondeghem 2008 ). These measures are conducive to
the quality of long-term governance. However, their
implementation is often accompanied by difficulties
such as a paucity of resources, information asymmetry,
and institutional inertia (Wedeman 2005 ). Thus,
political leaders, especially those in the developing
world, often resort to less institutionalized means,
in particular anticorruption campaigns, to fight
Driven by strong political will and often bypassing
formal legal institutions, anticorruption campaigns
tend to feature temporary intensive enforcement, such
as revealing outrageous corruption cases and cracking
down on high-ranking officials. Thus, eliminating
corrupt officials tends to be presumed as the primary
goal of campaigns. However, the broader sociopolitical
repercussions of such campaign-style enforcement are
often overlooked. In fact, governments usually launch
anticorruption campaigns not only to curb corruption
but also to gain legitimacy and win political support
(Gillespie and Okruhlik 1991 ). When corruption is
serious and governments are in a trust crisis, political
leaders are especially prone to look for quick solutions
to recover public confidence. For example, Indonesia
launched several corruption eradication campaigns to
legitimize Suharto ’ s regime (Quah 1999 ). The Korean
government also resorted to anticorruption campaigns
to rebuild trust in government, which has declined in
recent years (Yi 2015 ).
This article seeks to understand the extent to which
anticorruption campaigns win public support, which
is a critical factor for good governance and political
Research Article

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