Does Russian Propaganda Work


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TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
DoesRussian
PropagandaWork?
ance,weakenpublicsupportforpoliciescounteringRussianaggressioninUkraine,
andsolidifytheallegiancesofRussia
TheodoreP.GerberisprofessorofsociologyanddirectoroftheCenterforRussia,East
Europe,andCentralAsiaattheUniversityofWisconsin-Madison.Hecanbereachedat
[email protected],CollegeofSocial&Behav-
ioralSciences,andassociateprofessorofsociologyattheUniversityofArizona.Shecanbe
[email protected]ytheU.S.Army
ResearchLaboratoryandtheU.S.ArmyResearchOfficeviatheMinervaResearchInitiative
programundergrantnumberW911NF1310303.Theviewsreportedheredonotrepresent
thoseoftheU.S.ArmyortheU.S.government.TheauthorsaregratefultoBarbaraJunisbai,
GinaFaranda,andKathrynHendleyforcommentsonearlierversions.
Copyright©2016TheElliottSchoolofInternationalAffairs
TheWashingtonQuarterly
39:2pp.79
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2016.1204398
79
ThepotentialconsequencesofRussianpropagandahavemadeitanimportant
concerntopolicymakersandmilitaryofficialsintheUnitedStates,NATO,and
theEU.CallingforastrongerresponsetoRussianpropaganda,Congressman
EdwardR.Royce(R-CA),chairmanoftheHouseForeignAffairsCommittee,
recentlystated:
sremarkabletoseethesophisticatedmediaoffensethat
PutinisconductingacrossEasternEurope,CentralEurope,theMiddleEastand
LatinAmerica
rejustnotcounteringiteffectively.
VictoriaNuland,
oweffectivehas
Russianpropaganda
beenatswayingthe
viewsofitsintended
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
81
chaos,and,ultimately,
colorrevolution
incountriesitperceivesasrivals;3)its
meansofdoingsoincludefundinggroupsthatopposethelegitimateleadersof
thesecountriesandotherwisepromotingdiscontentundertheguiseofsupport
forabstractinstitutionsitcalls
humanrights
;and4)Russia,
withitsresourcesanditsalternativeinstitutionsandculture,istheonlyforcein
theworldcapableofresistingU.S.dominationandcontrol.Inaddition,
Russiansocialandpoliticalvaluesarejuxtaposedtothoseofthe
heldtobesuperior,withtheformerlinkedtotraditionalism,communalism,and
stability,andthelatterto
lifestyles(e.g.insexualpreference),selfish
individualism(e.g.predatorycapitalism),andinstability(e.g.raceriotsinthe
UnitedStates,orchaosintheMiddleEastduetothe
ArabSpring
Theoriginalthreadsofthisnarrativecanbetracedbacktothemid-2000s.They
comefromspeechesbyPutinandhisassociates,andfromlegislativeactions
ystematicdatahas
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
toathirdsuccessivetermaspresidentinOctober2013:theSeptember2015sen-
tencingto7.5yearsinprisonofjournalistandactivistKhadijaIsmayilova(shewas
recentlygivenearlyrelease)isbutthelatestexampleofarashofarrestsofcivic
activistsandcriticaljournalists,repressionofpoliticalNGOs,closuresofindepen-
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
83
mayhavegalvanizedpublicsupportfortheideathatprotestisavalidmechanism
forkeepingincheckthepowerofpoliticalleaders.PriortoRussia
saggressive
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
interviewersfollowedcorrectfieldprocedures.Ineachcountry,wehaveanationally
representativesampleofroughly2000andalsoanoversampleof400respondents
ostilepercep-
tionsoftheUnited
Stateshavetaken
holdinRussia.
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
85
duringWorldWarII.However,thespecificemphasisofrecentRussianpropa-
gandaonanti-Americanismmaywellplayarole.
AttitudestowardRussiavarysignificantlyacrosstheotherthreecountries.
SeventypercentofUkrainianrespondentsseeRussiaasanenemyorrival,8
percentasapartnerorallyofUkraine.TheannexationofCrimeaandRussian
aggressionineasternUkrainehaveevidentlypushedthebalanceofopinionin
therestofUkraineagainstRussia.Incontrast,Kyrgyzrespondentsoverwhelmingly
Figure1:ViewsoftheUnitedStates,Germany,andRussia
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
inthefourcountrieshavebeentoRussia
smessagesabouttheUnitedStates,
Germany,anditself.
TheWarinUkraine
HowwidelyacceptedistheRussiangovernmentclaimthattheUnitedStatesand
thepost-MaidanUkrainianregimearetoblameforthemilitaryconflictthathas
ragedineasternUkrainesinceearly2014?Askedtoidentifythemainpartyrespon-
sibleforthefighting,overhalftheRussianrespondentssayitistheUnitedStates,
andanother31percentblametheUkrainiangovernment(
Figure2
).Almostnone
faulttheRussiangovernmentortheseparatists.RussiansseetheUkrainianconflict
inpreciselythetermstheirgovernmentwantsthemtoseeit.
Instarkcontrast,59percentofUkrainiansseetheRussiangovernmentasthe
primaryculprit.Nootherpartyisidentifiedbymorethan9percentofUkrainians.
UkrainianblameonRussiamayseemintuitive,butitshowsthatalthough
Figure2:WhichpartyismainlyresponsibleforthefightinginEastern
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
87
moreinlinethantheAzerbaijaniswithofficialRussianviews,Kyrgyzrespondents
tendtoholdtheUkrainiangovernmenttoaccountfortheconflict(42percent),
whileanother29percentblametheU.S.government.Inallfourcountries,fewer
than10percentseetheseparatistsasthepartymostresponsiblefortheconflict:
tissurprisingto
seeafairlybalanced
distributionofviews
inRussiaabout
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
Overhalftherespondentsintheremainingthreecountriesapproveofforeign
fundingforelectionmonitoringNGOs,eventhoughtheAzerbaijanigovernment
hasbeenpubliclycriticizingforeignmeddlingviasupportforpoliticalNGOssince
late2014,andtheKyrgyzgovernmentispushinglegislationsimilartoRussia
foreignagent
law.TheRussiangovernment
sargumentagainstforeign
fundingofNGOshasnottakenroot.Viewsonforeignfundingofenvironmental
NGOsshowasimilarpatternofvariationacrosscountries,withhigherlevelsof
supportinallfour:infact,evenRussiansaremorelikelytoapprovethandisap-
proveofforeignfundingforenvironmentalNGOs.Ukrainianstendtosupport
foreignfundingofNGOs,withminusculeproportionsexpressingqualms.
Publicopiniontowardcoreinstitutionsofdemocracytiltsevenmoreagainstthe
Russiannarrative.Weaskedrespondentshowimportantfreeandfairelections,a
strongopposition,andfreedomofassemblyarefortheircountrytoflourish
Figure5
).Supportforfreeandfairelectionsiswidespreadinallfourcountries
andespeciallystronginUkraineandKyrgyzstan,thetwomoredemocraticones.
ButRussianauthoritieshavenotspokenoutagainstfreeandfairelectionsand
haveactuallytakenpainstoarguethattheelectionsheldinRussiacomplywith
internationalnorms.Putinandhisassociateshavepilloriedtheoppositionin
Figure3:Arepeacefulprotestsagainstthegovernment
spolicieshelpfulor
harmfultoourcountry?
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
89
Russiaasafifthcolumnofnationaltraitors,andtheyusedlawsrestrictingthe
freedomtoassemblepeacefullyinordertolimitopportunitiesfortheircriticstopub-
Figure4:ApproveordisapproveofforeignfundingofNGOs?
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
freedomofspeech,equalitybeforethelaw,andforeignpolicy(
Table1
),andwe
alsoaskedrespondentsinthethreeothercountriestocharacterizeRussiain
thesefourrespects.
Assessmentsofdomesticsocialprotectionsarefairlyevenlydistributedin
Russia,Azerbaijan,andKyrgyzstan,andtheyleannegative(53percent)in
Ukraine.Cross-nationaldifferencesarefairlymutedintermsofassessingdomestic
freedomofspeech,with41
46percentpositive,Azerbaijanisthemostnegative
(29percent),andRussiansespeciallylikelytobeneutral(38percent).Equality
beforethelawisasorepointinUkraine(60percentassessitnegatively),and
alsosomewhatinRussia(46percent)andKyrgyzstan(40percent).HalfofRus-
siansandAzerbaijanisapproveoftheirrespectivecountries
foreignpolicy;Ukrai-
niansandKyrgyzarelessapprovingoftheirs.
Inthethreeothercountries,substantialnumbersofrespondentsfindithardto
saywhattheythinkaboutRussia
ssituationwithrespecttothesefourareas.
Amongthosewithviews,UkrainianstendtobecriticalofRussia,Kyrgyztobe
Figure5:Howimportantarethefollowingforourcountrytoflourish?
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
91
Weassignedintegerscorestothefivevalidanswerstothesequestions(with
verypositive
and5
verynegative
Table1:Howdoyouassessthesituationinourcountry(inRussia)inthefollowingspheres?
A.Socialprotections
DomesticInRussia
RUUKAZKGUKAZKG
Verypositive3%4%4%9%2%9%21%
Somewhatpositive25%12%36%20%7%32%33%
Neutral30%21%18%21%10%17%8%
Somewhatnegative28%26%26%22%11%5%2%
Verynegative7%27%9%14%18%1%1%
Noidea/hardtosay7%10%7%15%52%37%35%
B.Freedomofspeech
DomesticInRussia
RUUKAZKGUKAZKG
Verypositive7%12%7%16%1%12%18%
Somewhatpositive34%30%35%30%2%35%31%
Neutral38%26%24%25%7%16%11%
Somewhatnegative11%14%21%11%13%4%4%
Verynegative3%9%8%6%38%2%2%
Noidea/hardtosay7%9%5%12%40%31%35%
C.Equalitybeforelaw
DomesticInRussia
RUUKAZKGUKAZKG
Verypositive6%4%5%9%1%8%16%
Somewhatpositive17%7%32%18%2%29%30%
Neutral25%20%27%21%8%22%12%
Somewhatnegative31%30%22%25%15%5%5%
Verynegative15%30%7%15%29%2%3%
Noidea/hardtosay6%9%7%11%45%34%35%
D.Foreignpolicy
DomesticInRussia
RUUKAZKGUKAZKG
Verypositive13%5%13%5%1%12%17%
Somewhatpositive37%15%37%18%3%23%27%
Neutral29%25%23%30%8%17%12%
Somewhatnegative9%17%9%14%10%7%3%
Verynegative2%17%4%7%34%4%1%
Noidea/hardtosay11%20%14%26%44%37%40%
E.Summaryscales(forthosewithvalidanswers):
Russiarelativetohomecountry
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
regardtosocialprotections.Azerbaijanisleansomewhattowardfavorableviews
ofRussia,thoughtoalesserextentthanKyrgyzandnotwithrespecttoforeign
policy(mostlikelyreflectingRussia
ssupportforArmenia).
EffortstoportrayRussia
sinstitutionsandpoliciesinapositivelighthavehad
considerablesuccessinKyrgyzstanandsomesuccess,thoughlessconsistentand
weaker,inAzerbaijan.EveninUkraine,Russia
sperformancewithregardto
socialprotectionsisviewedaboutaswellasUkraine
s,whileRussia
scivilprotec-
tionsandforeignpolicyareviewedmorenegatively.However,manyrespondents
inallthreecountries
fromonethirdtoonehalfineverycase
Table2:BlamefortheUkrianeconflict,byRussiantelevisionnewsconsumption
A.Azerbaijan
Everyday(22%)5%32%32%31%
Severaltimesaweek(15%)7%35%30%28%
Onceaweek(6%)8%45%19%28%
1-2timesamonth(4%)4%42%18%35%
1-2timesayear(2%)10%54%18%18%
Never(51%)7%36%13%44%
Hardtosay(9%)0%17%0%83%
B.Kyrgyzstan
Everyday(53%)42%5%33%21%
Severaltimesaweek(22%)46%3%27%24%
Onceaweek(10%)40%4%31%25%
1-2timesamonth(5%)48%15%17%20%
1-2timesayear(2%)54%24%4%18%
Never(8%)32%10%18%40%
Hardtosay(9%)24%0%0%76%
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
93
ConsumptionofRussiantelevisionnewsisfairlycommoninAzerbaijan,butitis
extremelywidespreadinKyrgyzstan,where75percentofrespondentswatch
towardthemerits
ofanopposition
indicatesthecom-
plexityofRussian
publicopinion.
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
oblasts,21percentconsiderRussiaapartnerorally,whileinthewesternoblasts
only3percentdo:clearlypro-Russiansentimentisstrongerintheeast,butit
remainsfarfromamajorityperspective.
AzerbaijanandKyrgyzstanrepresentinterestingpointsofcontrastwithrespect
toRussianpropaganda.TheKyrgyzpopulationthinksveryhighlyofRussia
sinsti-
tutionsandpolicies,andtendstoacceptRussia
sclaimsregardingthecauseofthe
anincreaseinaid.
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
95
institutionsandcounterRussianaggression,andthetimeisripeforamassive
expansionofsuchassistancefromtheUnitedStatesanditsallies.
1.EleonoraTafuro,
FatalAttraction?RussianSoftPowerinitsNeighborhood,
May29,2014,
2.QuotedinGuyTaylor,
RussiaPropagandaMachineGainsonU.S.,
TheWashington
December27,2015,
TestimonyonUkraineBeforetheHouseForeignAffairsCommittee,
testimonyofVic-
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T
FervorataFeverPitch,
TheAmericanInterest,
March9,2015,
interest.com/2015/03/09/russias-anti-american-at-a-fever-pitch
9.SarahE.MendelsonandTheodoreP.Gerber,
UsandThem:Anti-AmericanViewsofthe
PutinGeneration,
TheWashingtonQuarterly
31,no.2(Spring2008)pp.131-50;Theo-
doreP.Gerber,
ForeignPolicyandtheUnitedStatesinRussianPublicOpinion,
blemsofPost-Communism
62,no.2(2015):pp.98-111,
abs/10.1080/10758216.2015.1010909?journalCode=mppc20
;SarahE.Mendelson,
PutinOutstheNGOs:HowtoFightRussia
DoesRussianPropagandaWork?
97
representationofthegroupsthatweover-sampledaswellasminordeviationsfromthe
populationsofinterestintermsofdemographiccharacteristics,astandardprocedure
thatyieldsthemostreliableestimateshowattitudesontheissuesinquestionaredistrib-
utedwithintherespectivepopulations.WealsoomitthemortgageroversampleinUkraine
becauseadifferentsamplingprocedurewasusedtoreachthem.
17.WewerenotabletoincludethisquestionontheUkrainesurveybecauseweprioritized
otherquestionsandhadlimitedspace.
TheodoreP.GerberandJaneZavisca
T

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