Director, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Quality of Governance in China: The Citizen’s View
Saich, Anthony. "The Quality of Governance in China: The Citizen’s View." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP12-051, 2012.
Are China’s citizens sufficiently satisfied to reduce potential challenges to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule? It is reasonable to assume that if a significant percentage of citizens are more satisfied with government performance and the provision of public goods, the government will have a greater capacity for policy experimentation and enjoy a residual trust that may help them survive policy errors.
This paper asks three sets of questions. The first set asks about the general levels of satisfaction with government across different levels. Second, we ask about how citizens view the performance of local officials in dealing with the public and in implementing policy. Third, we look at the level of satisfaction with the provision of a number of specific goods and services, with a more in-depth look at dealing with corruption. In particular, we compare responses among those who live in major cities, small towns and townships, and villages.
Findings are based on a survey that was conducted together with Horizon Market Research Company in the fall of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. The survey is a purposive stratified survey ranging from 3,800 to 4,150 respondents selected from three administrative levels: city, town, and village. Rather than a nationwide probability sample, the survey comprises a number of sites selected on the basis of three variables: geographic location, average per capita income, and population.
Survey findings reveal that the new leadership that takes power through late-2012 and 2013 is likely to inherit a mixed situation. There is clearly much dissatisfaction with the performance of local government and its officials; very few have faith that the government can deal effectively with the problem of corruption. Yet, there is still good will towards the Central government that is not identified with the problems that are seen to blight the performance of those levels of government closer to the people. The surveys confirm the view of others that Chinese citizens do “disaggregate” the state and would appear to retain faith in the central government.
In addition, the satisfaction with all levels of government has risen since we began the surveys in 2003. This may give the Central leadership some cushion if it makes policy errors in the future. However, as we have seen in the recent past, seemingly stable authoritarian regimes can unravel quickly, and citizen frustration can spill out onto the streets. Our survey also suggests that citizens feel that local officials are not very effective in promoting the interests of ordinary folk, but are quite adept at pursuing their own interests. It will be a notable challenge for the new leadership to bring about significant improvement in those areas of public service citizens deem most important without increasing transparency and accountability in local government.