Distrust in Government Leaders, Demand for Leadership Change, and Preference for Popular Elections in Rural China

Lianjiang LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the relationship between distrust in incumbent government leaders and demand for systemic changes in rural China. It finds that individuals who distrust government leaders' commitment to the public interest have both stronger demand for leadership change and stronger preference for popular elections. It argues that distrust in government leaders may have enhanced the demand for leadership change, which in turn may have reinforced the preference for elections. It further argues that distrust in incumbent leaders has in effect induced a demand for systemic changes, as introducing popular election of government leaders would require a major constitutional amendment. The paper suggests that two distinctive mechanisms may be at work in determining whether distrust in current government authorities induces preference for systemic changes. Whether citizens can engineer leadership change through existing channels influences the generation of idealistic wishes for a better political system. Perceived availability of better and viable alternatives affects whether idealistic wishes become a practical preference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-311
Number of pages21
JournalPolitical Behavior
Early online date12 Jun 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This project was funded by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Government (Grant No. CUHK2440/06H). I thank my collaborators for administering the survey. For insightful comments and suggestions, I thank the editors, two anonymous reviewers, Pierre Landry, Xiaobo Lu, Jeremy Wallace, and especially Kevin O’Brien and Melanie Manion.


  • Distrust in government leaders
  • Leadership change
  • Political trust
  • Systemic changes


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