Linan Yao

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Columbia University. My research examines propaganda through entertainment in the context of China. My substantive interest lies at the intersection of political economy, political communication, and Chinese politics. My other work appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Book project

Marking Propaganda Sell: Commercialization of Propagandist Entertainment in China

My dissertation and book project explains the surprising revival of propaganda content in China's commercial entertainment scene decades after its market transition. While many understand this new trend as a reflection of the changing public mood in China, I find the trend’s root in an intricate political economy of the production of propaganda. I show how the state can successfully organize propaganda production by utilizing the power of the private sector to produce effective propaganda of high entertainment products that win over the market. I also test the effectiveness and the cost of this strategy.


Electoral college bias and the 2020 presidential election, with Robert S. Erikson, Karl Sigman. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020. Paper here.

Donald Trump’s 2016 win despite failing to carry the popular vote has raised concern that 2020 would also see a mismatch between the winner of the popular vote and the winner of the Electoral College. This paper shows how to forecast the electoral vote in 2020 taking into account the unknown popular vote and the configuration of state voting in 2016. We note that 2016 was a statistical outlier. The potential Electoral College bias was slimmer in the past and not always favoring the Republican candidate. We show that in past presidential elections, difference among states in their presidential voting is solely a function of the states’ most recent presidential voting (plus new shocks); earlier history does not matter. Based on thousands of simulations, our research suggests that the bias in 2020 probably will favor Trump again but to a lesser degree than in 2016. The range of possible outcomes is sufficiently wide, however, to even include some possibility that Joseph Biden could win in the Electoral College while barely losing the popular vote.

Working Papers

Old Wine in New Bottles: Dressing Authoritarian Propaganda in Entertainment, with Hanzhang Liu

Dictators love to use movies for propaganda. In particular, China is ramping up its efforts of propagating through commercialized movies, and many of them have become huge market hits. What are the sources of popular soft propaganda? We theorize two explanations: First, people welcome soft propaganda when the propaganda message is more implicit; Second, people welcome soft propaganda when it is more entertaining. We test these hypotheses using both observational data and a conjoint survey experiment to decode how propaganda can become popular. Our empirical results suggest that the key to promoting propaganda through entertainment is the entertainment value, which also brings new audiences to authoritarian propaganda. On the other hand, we find limited evidence for the idea that the audience is more resistant to content with more explicit propaganda intent.


I have served as a Teaching Fellow for the following courses.

Experimental Research

Graduate Level, Spring 2019

TA for Donald Green


Game Theory

Graduate Level, Spring 2018

TA for John Huber


Introduction to Human Rights

Undergraduate Level, Fall 2018 and Fall 2017

TA for Andrew Nathan



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New York, US