This research note examines authoritarian propaganda strategies’ effectiveness during political crises and policy changes. Although extensive research showcases the efficacy of propaganda, limited attention has been given to its shortcomings. We posit that various propaganda strategies, including “hard” and “soft” rhetoric, have significant limitations during political crises. Hard propaganda’s heavy-handed slogans could sig- nal regime strength but may also legitimize “rightful resistance” against local author- ities, limiting its protest-deterrence effects. Soft propaganda may lose persuasiveness due to presenting contradictory arguments during policy changes. We leverage China’s COVID policy reversal and political turmoil to conduct an original, pre-registered survey experiment in December 2022. Our findings reveal that pro-reopening hard propaganda weakens its protest-deterrence effects by reinforcing belief in protest righ- teousness. Moreover, inconsistent soft propaganda lowers public evaluations of China’s COVID response, diminishing its persuasive effects. Our study highlights significant limitations of authoritarian propaganda, particularly during political crises when they are most needed.