Outspoken Insiders: Political Connections and Citizen Participation in Authoritarian China
Few political systems are completely closed to citizen participation, but in nondemocratic systems and developing democracies, such participation may come with risks. In these contexts where fear and uncertainty may be high, why do some citizens still take action and make complaints to authorities? The resource mobilization model identifies the importance of time, money, and civic skills as resources that are necessary for participation. In this paper, we build on this model and argue that political connections—close personal ties to someone working in government—can also constitute a critical resource, especially in contexts with weak democratic institutions. Using data from both urban and rural China, we find that individuals with political connections are more likely to contact authorities with complaints about government public services, despite the fact that they do not have higher levels of dissatisfaction with public service provision. We conduct various robustness checks, including a sensitivity analysis, and show that this relationship is unlikely to be driven by an incorrect model specification or unobserved confounding variables.