Book Project: “Shoring Up Autocracy: Participatory Technologies and Regime Support in Putin’s Russia.”

How do non-democracies build public support? I argue that authoritarian leaders create and maintain what I call participatory technologies—telecommunication technologies that permit interaction between citizens and governments—in order to engage its citizens in the political process. Instead of being relegated to mere bystanders in the political discourse, ordinary people are actively engaged in its construction. By giving citizens a voice in an otherwise restrictive system, governments increase support while limiting the uncertainty and potential loss of control typically associated with traditional forms of participation. I substantiate this argument with representative survey experiments and a detailed case study of Russian under President Putin. I find that exposure to participatory technologies bolsters support for the President and increases citizens’ perceptions of opportunities for voice in the political process. Finally, I demonstrate that these effects are dependent upon individuals’ political sophistication and predisposition for or against the government, contributing to political polarization and opening up the potential for backlash against the government.