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Harvard survey finds Chinese satisfaction with govt rises

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-07-17 06:53

Farmers carry baskets of navel oranges in an orchard in Huichang, Jiangxi province, in 2019. [Photo by Chen Zebing/China Daily]

A Harvard University survey has found that Chinese citizens' satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board, with the central authorities receiving the strongest level of approval, increasing from 86 percent to 93 percent between 2003 and 2016, the period of the study.

Grassroots officials were also rated far more as "problem solvers" and "concerned with the difficulties of ordinary people" and far less as "beholden to the wealthy" and "only concerned about their own interests" by the end of the study, which was released last week by Harvard's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

The landmark report, "Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time", presents responses that sometimes surprised its researchers and shed light on the close rapport between the Communist Party of China and the people in the world's second-largest economy.

'Near-universal increase'

This is the longest academic study of Chinese public opinion ever conducted by a research institution based outside China. It involved in-person interviews with more than 31,000 individuals in urban and rural areas and used "the most objective and quantitative methods" currently available, according to the report's authors, led by Ash Center China Programs Director Edward Cunningham.

"The most striking feature of our survey's data since 2003 is the near-universal increase in Chinese citizens' average satisfaction toward all four levels of government," the researchers said, referring to governments at township, county, province and central levels.

For example, in 2016, the last year the survey was conducted, 93.1 percent of respondents were either "relatively satisfied" or "highly satisfied" with the central government, representing a rise of 7 percentage points from 2003.

In contrast, Americans who responded they were satisfied with the federal government ranged from 39 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2016, according to Gallup polls.

Contrary to what researchers observe in the United States, where lower-level governments usually gain more trust than the federal government does, the Harvard survey found that in China in 2003, township governments, the lowest level of government examined, got the approval of only 44 percent of respondents, just about half of the approval rating for the central government.

The number, however, had drastically improved by 2016, with 70 percent approving.

"I think citizens often hear that the central government has introduced a raft of new policies, then get frustrated when they don't always see the results of such policy proclamations, but they think it must be because of malfeasance or foot-dragging by the local government," Ash Center Director Tony Saich was quoted as saying in a Harvard Gazette report on Thursday.

Saich and Jesse Turiel, a China Energy postdoctoral fellow at the Ash Center, were also the authors of the survey report.

The increase in satisfaction goes beyond the overall assessment of government performance. When asked about the specific conduct and attributes of local government officials, increasing numbers of Chinese citizens view them as "kind", "knowledgeable" and "effective", according to the survey.

In addition to the public's assessment of the Chinese government and officials, the survey sought to examine public opinion on the three key policy areas of public service provision, corruption and the environment.

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