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Explaining Authoritarian Collapse through Public Opinion Surveys: Evidence from Poland (1985-1989)

February 2, 2018 @ 12:00 am

Explaining Authoritarian Collapse through Public Opinion Surveys: Evidence from Poland (1985-1989)

DateJanuary 31, 2014

Time6:00am to 7:30am

4357 Bunche Hall


In this paper we take advantage of a unique set of surveys from late-communist Poland to address the question how anti-communist attitudes developed in the years leading up to the fall of communism in East-Central Europe. We use several surveys carried out on representative national samples in Poland between 1985 (one year after the end of Martial Law) and 1989 to examine the correlates of dissident attitudes among the mass public. The surveys were carried out by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS), a polling company created by the communist authorities in the aftermath of the rise of the dissident trade union Solidarity, when they realized that relying on reports from the secret police alone left them unprepared for outbreaks of popular dissidence. We exploit the variation in the authoritarian context –from the restrictive post-Martial law regime through gradual liberalization to the relatively tolerant pre-roundtable negotiations environment—to show that, contrary to Timur Kuran’s theory, a decrease in pro-government attitudes does not immediately translate into an increase inpro-opposition attitudes. Instead, there is a considerable lag between the expression of pro-government and pro-opposition attitudes, at least at the aggregate level. We use significant events from recent Polish and European political history to interpret this gap. Additionally, we correct for the possibility of bias in answering questions about the authoritarian regime sincerely by using a question about Solidarity membership during the period when it was a legal organization to develop weights allowing us to distinguish between the more and less sincere respondents.

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