Joan E. Cho and Paul Y. Chang. 2016. “Socioeconomic Foundations of South Korea’s Democracy Movement” in Youna Kim (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Korean Culture and Society: A Global Approach. London: Routledge, pp. 63-75.

Joan E. Cho, Jae Seung Lee, and B.K. Song. 2017. “Media Exposure and Regime Support Under Competitive Authoritarianism: Evidence from South Korea” in Journal of East Asian Studies 17(2): 145-166 DOI:

This study explores whether and how exposure to mass media affects regime support in competitive authoritarian regimes. Using geographical and temporal variation in newspaper circulation and radio signal strength in South Korea under Park Chung Hee’s competitive authoritarian rule (1961-1972), we find that greater exposure to media was correlated with more opposition to the authoritarian incumbent but only when the government’s control of the media was weaker. When state control of the media was stronger, the correlation between media exposure and regime support disappears. Through a content analysis of newspaper articles, we also demonstrate that the regime’s tighter media control is indeed associated with pro-regime bias in news coverage. These findings from the South Korean case suggest that the liberalizing effect of mass media in competitive authoritarian regimes is conditional on the extent of government control over the media.

“Mind the Electoral Gap: The Effect of Investment in Public Infrastructure on Authoritarian Support in South Korea” (with Jae Seung Lee and B.K. Song; under review) 

Why do authoritarian regimes invest in public infrastructure? This paper examines the effect of investment in transportation infrastructure on regime support in an electoral authoritarian regime. Using a difference-in-difference analysis of neighborhood-level panel data on subway system from 1971-1985 in urban South Korea, we find that incumbent vote share increased in neighborhoods where new subway stations were constructed. We also present evidence suggesting that subway construction is effective at boosting regime support, especially in neighborhoods where people are more likely to read about the government propaganda of subway construction from newspapers. The results suggest that investment in welfare-enhancing goods and services such as public transportation may help autocrats of developing countries to retain political power by increasing electoral support for their ruling parties.

“Constructing Labor: Long-term Effect of Industrialization on Labor Mobilization in South Korea”

While economic growth contributes to regime stability, modernization theory predicts that industrialization will lead to democratization. I argue that industrialization has divergent effects on regime support in the short- versus long-term. Autocrat-led industrialization may initially enhance regime stability, but it can also facilitate labor activism in the long run. To showcase this argument, I utilize data from South Korea, a critical case in which industrialization contributed to both authoritarian durability and democratization. I estimate the controlled direct effect of industrial complexes, originally built by the autocrats, and show that the presence of industrial complexes increased protests during the democratic transition period. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of distinguishing the short- versus long-term effect of industrialization on democracy.

“Escaping Collective Responsibility in Fluid Party Systems: Evidence from South Korea” (with Dominika Kruszewska)

How does the public evaluate politicians’ reactions to political crises that significantly impact the image of their parties? In this paper, we use an experimental survey design to explore which strategies allow politicians to escape electoral accountability for corruption in their party. We do so using the case of South Korea, where a recent political scandal surrounding the former President prompted some politicians from her party to participate in protests calling for her impeachment, make statements criticizing her leadership or join a new split party with a similar platform. We find that all of these strategies are effective in both increasing electoral support and decreasing perceptions of corruption. However, leaving the party is the least successful at increasing electoral support and politicians are more likely to gain votes if instead they take a clear position against those implicated in corruption. The findings of the study have implications for weakly institutionalized party systems, where politicians, faced with a party brand crisis, have an incentive to switch parties to escape the collective reputation of their previous organization, as opposed to reforming the party from within.

“Do Authoritarian Elections Mobilize or Demobilize Protest? Theory and Evidence from South Korea”

 Does the introduction of multiparty elections mobilize or demobilize protest in authoritarian regimes? This paper sheds new light on this question by using an original subnational events dataset from South Korea under Chun Doo Hwan’s authoritarian regime (1980-1988). The analysis demonstrates that the introduction of multiparty elections has a dampening effect on anti-regime protest, but the strength and magnitude of the effect are mitigated by the mobilizing structures of the opposition forces. This dampening effect is strongest in regions with a low density of activists but the magnitude of the effect decreases in areas with a higher density of activists. This finding suggests that rather than viewing elections as a single “silver bullet” for authoritarianism, more attention should be paid to their conditional effects and the structural basis for mobilization.