BRETT CARTER

Brett Carter - 2015
  • Biography





    Brett Carter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California and co-PI of the Lab on Non-Democratic Politics. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Brett is a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University.

    Brett received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University, where he was a Graduate Fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He has previously held fellowships at Stanford's CDDRL and Hoover Institution.

    Brett's research focuses on politics in the world's autocracies. His first book, Propaganda in Autocracies, employs computational techniques to understand the political foundations of autocratic propaganda. It is currently an R&R at Cambridge University Press. His second book project, Building a Dictatorship, explores how Central Africa's autocrats are learning to survive despite the nominally democratic institutions they confront and the international pressure that has occasionally made outright repression costly. His other work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Security Studies, and Journal of Democracy, among others.

    His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, Social Science Research Council, Guggenheim Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

    Brett's work has been featured in a number of media platforms, including, most recently, The New York Times and NPR's Radio Lab. Brett is also an occasional contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy's Power 3.0 project, African Arguments, and Africa is a Country. He can be reached via Twitter (@brett_l_carter) and email (blcarter@usc.edu).

  • Propaganda in Autocracies [PDF]


    "As long as people think that the dictator's power is secure," Gordon Tullock wrote, "it is secure." When citizens think otherwise, all at once, a dictator's power is anything but, as Timur Kuran and Susanne Lohmann observed after the Soviet Union's collapse. This conviction -- that power rests ultimately on citizens believing in it -- has long compelled the world's autocrats to invest in sophisticated propaganda apparatuses. This book draws on the first global dataset of autocratic propaganda, encompassing eight million newspaper articles from 70 countries in six languages. We document dramatic variation in propaganda across autocracies: in coverage of the regime and its opponents, in narratives about domestic and international life, in the threats of violence issued to citizens, and in the domestic events that shape it.

    Why does propaganda vary so dramatically across autocracies? The answer, put simply, is that different autocrats employ propaganda to achieve different ends. Most autocrats now govern with nominally democratic institutions: regular elections, national parliaments, and opposition parties. Some autocrats are more constrained by these institutions than others, either because their recourse to repression is limited by international pressure or because they confront domestic institutions or pressure groups that bind them. Where these electoral constraints are relatively binding, autocrats must curry some amount of popular support, and so they employ propaganda to persuade citizens of regime merits. To be persuasive, however, propaganda apparatuses must cultivate the appearance of neutrality, which requires conceding bad news and policy failures. Where electoral constraints are binding, we find, propaganda apparatuses cover the regime much like Fox News covers Republicans.

    Where autocrats confront no electoral constraints -- where autocrats can fully secure themselves with repression -- propaganda serves not to persuade citizens, but to dominate them. Propaganda derives its power from its absurdity. By forcing citizens to consume content that everyone knows to be false, autocrats make their capacity for repression common knowledge. Propaganda apparatuses engage in absurdly positive pro-regime coverage, while pretending opposition does not exist. Narratives about a country's contemporary history are presented in absurd terms, for these absurdities give them power. Citizens are told that their countries are envied around the world, crime does not exist, ``democracy" is alive and vibrant, and that the dictator is a champion of national sports. Propaganda apparatuses routinely and explicitly threaten citizens with violence.

    Students of autocratic politics generally regard nominally democratic institutions as forces for stability and regime survival as secured through patronage and repression. Our approach is different. We view nominally democratic institutions as constraints that autocrats attempt to loosen and citizens' beliefs as the key battlefield on which the struggle for political change is waged. Most broadly, we show that even weak electoral constraints force autocrats to wage the battle for citizens' beliefs from a position of weakness. To persuade citizens of their regimes' merits, electorally constrained autocrats must acknowledge policy failures that risk confirming citizens' frustrations and facilitating collective action. We draw from a range of disciplines to illustrate how. Our theory is informed by field research in China and Central Africa. We use computational tools to collect and measure propaganda, statistical and network techniques to analyze it, and case studies to bring it to life. Many of these case studies are of intrinsic historical importance. We explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda apparatus uses Donald Trump as a propaganda tool, why the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) propaganda is more effusive than any point since the Cultural Revolution, why Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali publicized his regime's failures before becoming the Arab Spring's first casualty, and why Cameroonian President Paul Biya produces different propaganda in English and French.

    The table of contents and first chapter appear above. A summary of the book project appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of the APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter. The book is currently R&R at Cambridge University Press.

    Building a Dictatorship: Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Republic of Congo, and Africa's Third Wave of Democracy [PDF]


    The Third Wave of Democracy reached Africa in January 1989. Five years later, with the Cold War over and food prices soaring, Africa's autocrats bowed to popular demands for reform. Some fell, others survived. But virtually all were subjected to nominally democratic institutions: term limits, parliaments, and regular multiparty elections. In some countries, these democratic institutions took hold. Elections grew more competitive, losers respected the will of voters, and equitable economic growth produced a middle class. But elsewhere -- places like Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Togo -- elections remain a sham, and ruling families grow wealthy while their citizens remain the world's poorest. There are, increasingly, two Africas: one democratic, the other autocratic.

    Scholars routinely ask some variant of the question: Why do autocrats hold regular elections? in Sub-Saharan Africa, the answer is historical. Africa's ancien regimes conceded nominally democratic institutions during the Third Wave of Democracy. These institutions have persisted, for institutions are difficult to change, especially when required by the international community in exchange for economic aid, investment, and debt relief. Nominally democratic institutions pose new challenges to Africa's autocrats. Most obviously, they lack access to the single party regimes that sustained their predecessors. Moreover, regular elections create focal moments for popular protest, when citizens are engaged, discontent is palpable, and opposition leaders coalesce frustration into mass protest. Africa's autocrats confront these new challenges with new constraints. When international creditors are willing to sanction human rights violations, repression is more costly, and citizens are more willing to protest. Accordingly, between 1986 and 2000, the number of autocracies in Africa fell from 45 to 30. Since then, however, the rate of democratization has slowed to a trickle.

    This book explores how Africa's autocrats are learning to survive despite the nominally democratic institutions they confront and the international pressure that has made outright repression more costly. The book's central argument is that autocratic survival is fundamentally about manipulating beliefs: of the elites whose compliance must be induced, of the citizens whose acquiescence must be elicited, and of the international community that must be made to abandon pressures to reform.

    Understanding how Africa's autocrats aim to manipulate the beliefs of these stakeholders requires a range of empirical methods and data sources. To understand the challenges and constraints confronted by Africa's post-Cold War autocrats, I employ a day-level records of protest and repression across the continent since 1989. To understand domestic politics -- the individuals who comprise the regime, the excluded elites who hope to join or depose it, and the frustrated citizens who struggle against it -- I focus on the Republic of Congo, ruled by President Denis Sassou Nguesso for all but five years since 1979. I employ a series of datasets that follow Congo's 1,500 leading political figures, 129 political parties, local and national elections, and 15,000 appointments to the internal security apparatus. To understand influence campaigns in Western capitals and outward facing propaganda apparatuses, I again broaden my focus to include several of Africa's most durable autocrats.

    For an annotated table of contents, please consult the link above.

    The Project on Foreign Money in American Politics [PDF]

    Governments around the world invest billions of dollars each year to shape American policy. Under contract to foreign governments – and, accordingly, acting on their behalf – Washington lobbyists meet with American lawmakers, fund their congressional campaigns, draft the legislative bills they sponsor, pressure the executive branch and agencies, disseminate media kits to leading newspapers, and build policy alliances among stakeholders.

    Which of the word’s governments invest most heavily in Washington lobbyists? Why? When? What do they get in return? Drawing on fieldwork in Central Africa and East Asia, our central argument is that Washington lobbying is a critical tool for the world’s worst governments to advance their domestic political interests. Moreover, we suspect that lobbying works: that the world’s autocrats routinely purchase a measure of international immunity from domestic human rights violations.

    To explore its hypotheses more systematically, this project draws on an original dataset of all lobbying activities ever undertaken by foreign governments in the United States since 1992. The database exploits the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires all agents who represent foreign principals to file detailed activity reports every six months. These activity reports, referred to as Supplemental Statements, are then made available on a website, which FARA requires the US Department of Justice to maintain. These Supplemental Statements include a wealth of information: every penny foreign governments transfer to Washington lobbyists, every contact that Washington lobbyists undertake with American government officials and media outlets on the foreign government’s behalf, every campaign contribution Washington lobbyists make while under contract, and much more. Once completed, this dataset will offer the first complete, fully searchable history of foreign lobbying in the United States.

    For a longer description, please consult the link above.
  • In Print and Forthcoming

    Carter, Brett L. Erin Baggott Carter, and Eva Isakovic. Forthcoming. “The Kremlin and K Street: Explaining Russian Influence in Washington.“ Journal of Democracy.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2021. “When Autocrats Threaten Citizens With Violence: Evidence from China." British Journal of Political Science. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2021. “Questioning More: RT, America, and the Post-West World Order.“ Security Studies. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2021. “Propaganda and Protest in Autocracies.“ Journal of Conflict Resolution. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Mai O. Hassan. 2021. “Regional Governance in Divided Societies: Evidence from the Republic of Congo and Kenya." Journal of Politics 83(1): 1-29. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2020. “Focal Moments and Protests in Autocracies: How Pro-Democracy Anniversaries Shape Dissent in China.“ Journal of Conflict Resolution 64(10): 1796-1827. PDF. Online Appendix.

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2018. “Propaganda and Electoral Constraints in Autocracies.“ APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter 28(2): 11-18. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2018. “Autocrats versus Activists in Africa.“ Journal of Democracy 29(1): 54-68. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “The Struggle Over Term Limits in Africa: How the West Can Help.“ Journal of Democracy 27(3): 36-50. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “Repression and Foreign Aid in Autocracies: Exploiting Debt Relief Negotiations in Post-Cold War Africa.“ AidData Working Paper 29. PDF.

    Revise & Resubmit

    Carter, Brett L. “Can Western Donors Constrain Repressive Governments? Evidence from Debt Relief Negotiations in Africa's Autocracies.“ PDF. Revise & resubmit at the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

    Circulating

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Out-Group Repression as a Signal: Evidence from China.“

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Religion and (Public) Dissent in Autocracies: Evidence from China.“

    Carter, Brett L., Erin Baggott Carter, and James D. Fearon. “Foreign Coverage in The New York Times: Evolution and Explanation.“

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. “Autocrats and Their Lobbyists: The Politics of Foreign Influence.“

  • Policy and General Interest

    Carter, Brett L. and Erin Baggott Carter. 2020. “Tiananmen's Other Children.” The New York Times. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2018. “Central African Activists Strike Back Against Authoritarian Kleptocrats.” The National Endowment for Democracy, Power 3.0. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “Something is happening in Congo-Brazzaville.” African Arguments. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s embarrassing attempt to ingratiate himself to Donald Trump.” Africa is a Country. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “Republic of Congo government blames non-existent militia for attack, wages war on citizens.” African Arguments. Link.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “President Sassou Nguesso prepares for final stage of his constitutional coup: elections in the Republic of Congo.” African Arguments. Link.

    Clark, John F. and Brett L. Carter. 2015. “Peacemaking or Pacification for the Pool: The Restoration of State Authority in a Rebellious Region of Congo-Brazzaville.” Journal of African Policy Studies.

    Reference Contributions

    Carter, Brett L. 2020. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2019, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2019. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2018, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2018. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2017, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2017. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2016, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. ``The Economy of the Republic of Congo." In Africa South of the Sahara, 2014, ed. Iain Frame. London: Routledge.

    Carter, Brett L. 2016. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2015, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2015. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2014, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2014. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2013, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. 2013. “The Republic of Congo.” In Africa Yearbook: Politics, Economy, and Society South of the Sahara in 2012, ed. Andreas Mehler, Henning Melber, and Klaas van Walraven. Leiden: Brill. PDF.

    Carter, Brett L. and John F. Clark. 2013. “Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville).” In Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, ed. Thomas Spear. New York: Oxford University Press. PDF.

    Legal Testimony

    I routinely provide legal testimony for asylum seekers in American and British courts. I have worked with private law firms, nonprofit organizations, and university legal clinics. For more see the Fahamu Refugee Programme (here).
  • Teaching

    The Political Economy of Africa

    Living standards around the world have increased, in many cases exponentially, throughout the previous century. Yet income levels in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa have remained roughly stagnant, and now the continent accounts for roughly 70% of the world’s poor. This course asks three questions: Why did this economic divergence occur? When did it begin? Will it persist for the foreseeable future? The course draws on a range of social science disciplines – anthropology, economics, history, political science, and sociology – to offer tentative answers.


    Syllabus

    Managing Global Problems


    The modern world is unprecedented in human history. Living standards have never been higher. Rates of violence have never been lower. More people live under democratic governments than ever before. The first part of this course documents these trends and, drawing from disciplines across the social science, attempts to explain them. The second part of the course surveys the challenges to this historical moment. We focus on the global implications of climate change, the resurgence of autocratic governments, the dynamics of civil resistance, the causes and consequences of income inequality in Western democracies, and the future of the post-World War II international order, among other topics.


    Syllabus

    The Political Economy of Autocracy

    Despite the global expansion of democracy since the 1990s, the most common form of political organization remains some variety of autocracy. This undergraduate seminar surveys major topics in the political economy of autocracy. It focuses, in particular, on a central question: How do autocratic governments retain power while denying basic political rights to a broad segment of the population? In so doing, the course probes the social and economic origins of autocracy, its implications for economic and international policy, the effects of natural resources thereon, the prevalence of elections and legislatures, and other topics. The course draws from a range of disciplines: primarily political science, economics, and history, but others too.


    Syllabus

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