Politicians, the Media, and Domestic Audience Costs

Branislav L. Slantchev

International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 2. (June, 2006), pp. 445-477.


Domestic audience costs can help leaders establish credible commitments by tying their hands. Most studies assume these costs without explaining how they arise. I link domestic audience costs to the citizens' ability to sanction the leadership for pursuing policies they would not want if they had the same information about their quality. How can citizens learn about policy quality? I model two information transmission mechanisms: one potentially contaminated by politically-motivated strategic behavior (leader and opposition), and another that is noisy and possibly biased (media). In equilibrium, audience costs can arise from strategic sources only in mixed regimes under relatively restrictive conditions, and cannot arise in autocracies or democracies. However, in democratic polities the media can play a mitigating role and does enable leaders to generate audience costs. Still, their ability to do so depends on the institutional protections guaranteeing freedom of the media from political manipulation. Domestic audience costs are not necessarily linear in regime type, as often assumed in applied research.


audience costs, repression, opposition, elections, voting, leader survival