Responses and Replies: Bureaucrats and Differential Responsiveness to Citizen Demands in China
Which demands are more likely to elicit substantive responses from governments that are not electorally accountable? This study analyzes factors affecting the degree of government responsiveness to citizen demands in China. Based upon information-gathering theory and features of the hierarchical bureaucratic system, I build a three-actor (government leaders, government functionaries, and ordinary citizens) framework to disaggregate local government in China and consider the difference in the degree of responsiveness from the perspective of government functionaries actually responding (or not responding) to citizen demands. I argue that the degree of attentiveness from functionaries (the clarity of the demand), the incentives for functionaries to respond (upward accountability and the principal-agent problem), and the difficulty of responsiveness for functionaries (the difficulty of the demand) are three dimensions that can explain the differential responsiveness to citizen demands. Empirically, I establish a new measure of government responsiveness in China distinguishing substantive responses from negative and perfunctory replies. I exploit a random sample of an original dataset containing over 130,000 online demands and government replies in an online petition institution in a Chinese city to test hypotheses implied by my theory. Regression results show that (1) explicit demands are more likely to elicit substantive responses than vague demands; (2) demands that align with the agendas of government leaders are more likely to elicit substantive responses than other demands; and (3) demands that require more effort to satisfy are less likely to elicit substantive responses than other demands. This study enriches our understanding of government responsiveness by usefully complicating the conventional analytical view of authoritarian responsiveness in the existing literature. This study also provides insights into interactions between ordinary citizens and officials under quasi-democratic authoritarian institutions in the real world.
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