https://ash.harvard.edu/files/ash/files ... 6.2020.pdf
Recent Trends in Citizen Satisfaction
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. To gauge satisfaction, respondents were asked to evaluate government performance on a scale of 1-4: 1 indicating “very dissatisfied”; 2 “fairly dissatisfied”; 3 “fairly satisfied”; and 4 “very satisfied.” In all iterations of the survey, satisfaction declines as the government gets closer to the people, with local county and township governments consistently generating lower satisfaction from citizens than the central or provincial governments. This “hierarchical satisfaction” is particularly noteworthy because it is the opposite of what researchers observe in the United States and many other democracies, where local political leaders tend to be far more popular than state or federal leaders. Nevertheless, recent increases in public approval have begun to narrow this “hierarchical satisfaction” gap in China (Table 1). Even in 2003, the central government received a strong level of satisfaction, with 86.1% expressing approval and 8.9% disapproving. This high level of satisfaction increased even further by 2016, but such increases were minimal because public satisfaction was already high to begin with. By contrast, in 2003, township-level governments had quite negative satisfaction rates, with 44% expressing approval and 52% disapproving. However, by 2016, these numbers had flipped, with 70% approving and only 26% disapproving.
These increases in satisfaction are not just limited to overall assessments 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. For example, in 2003, more than half of respondents felt that local officials were “talk only” and were not practical problem solvers. However, by 2016, 55% felt that officials were practical problem solvers, while only 36% disagreed. Similarly, in 2003, the proportion of respondents who felt that local officials were “beholden to the interests of the wealthy” was nearly double the proportion who felt that they were “concerned about the difficulties of ordinary people.” By 2016, this situation had reversed, with 52% agreeing that local officials prioritized the needs of ordinary people and only 40% agreeing that they prioritized those of the wealthy.
Beginning in 2004, the survey asked about respondents’ personal interactions with local government officials and their impression of those interactions. In each survey iteration, roughly 15% of the sample reported interactions with government officials during the previous 12 months. However, while the interaction rate stayed relatively constant, citizen impressions of government response did not. The percentage who claimed that their situation was “not resolved at all” shrunk from 28% in 2004 to just 7.6% in 2016. By contrast, the percentage who claimed that their situation was “completely resolved” rose from 19.3% in 2004 to 55.9% in 2016. Notably, in 2004, the rate of citizens who were satisfied with the eventual outcome of their interactions was less than half the rate of those who were dissatisfied; while in 2016 the rate of satisfaction was more than triple the rate of dissatisfaction.
Although it is clear that overall satisfaction with government performance increased significantly between 2003 and 2016, it is less obvious why these trends have occurred and whether or not they are sustainable.