Event Title

Putin Backfire: Effects of Authoritarian Endorsement in Swing States of Europe

Session

Political Science

Description

Which citizens are most receptive to foreign endorsements from autocrats? New information and communication technologies increasingly allow foreign leaders to shape public opinion outside their borders. Yet, we do not know much about the influence of endorsements outside the United States, especially when the endorsement comes from a non-democratic leader. We explore the influence of autocratic endorsements by studying Vladimir Putin’s influence in three European swing states, Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Our study has two main objectives. First, we identify those dispositions that correlate with Putin-sympathy, testing whether support for Putin is linked to the “conservative values.” While many claim that Russia is promoting a kind of old Holy Alliance, there is mixed evidence that individuals with far-right attitudes tend to support Putin. Second, we use a survey experiment (N=1,653) to assess whether Putin’s endorsement impacts attitudes. Our study makes several theoretical and empirical contributions. While a growing body of research shows that foreign actors can shape public opinion, others show that foreign cues are ineffective or even counter-productive. However, existing research has primary studied foreign cues in the United States, which limits what this body of research can say about the effect of foreign endorsements on citizens’ political attitudes outside Western democracies. We analyze the influence of foreign endorsement in countries typically overlooked by political scientists and assess how various individual-level factors, other than partisanship and political awareness, shape receptivity to foreign voices. Moreover, given Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia’s diverse historical, cultural, and economic ties with Russia, we distinguish between country-level and individual-level moderators of foreign endorsements. Second, prior studies tend to focus on cues from international organizations. In reality, most individuals do not have strong priors toward NGOs, meaning these studies may not represent how people actually receive information from international actors. We focus on estimating the effect of cues from foreign leaders, which tend to be more salient, and consequently, more persuasive. Third, given the growing attention to autocrats’ efforts to reshape global politics by manipulating public opinion, it is important to assess how cues from non-democratic leaders affect foreign policy attitudes. Few studies explicitly analyze how endorsement from autocrats shift foreign policy views, focusing instead on endorsement from Western democracies or international organizations. By studying what influence autocratic leaders have on public opinion outside their borders, we are able to comment on the mechanism by which autocrats can manipulate political outcomes in democratic settings. Therefore, we also contribute to a growing literature on Russia’s international influence, particularly Putin’s ability to manipulate global public opinion. We test our hypotheses with cellphone RDD simple random samples collected in Albania, Kosovo and Serbia in winter 2017-2018. We yield several notable and unexpected findings. First, we show that while support for NATO is associated negatively with sympathy for Putin, feeling toward the US and EU have no effect. The relationship between conservative values and pro-Putin attitudes is mixed. Believing that anti-homosexuality predicts pro-Putin views in Albania but not in Serbia. Interestingly, pro-immigration attitudes are associated with a sympathy for Putin in Albania but have the opposite effect in Serbia. We emphasize the importance of not overemphasizing the relationship between individual-level variables and support for autocratic leaders since these associations can vary based on geopolitical context. Second, we find that endorsements from Vladimir Putin backfire - decreasing people’s belief that Trump presidency will be good for their countries. The backfire effect is strongest in Albania, demonstrating that geopolitical orientation is a prominent moderating factor. Moreover, we find that age and sex strongly influence whether people accept an endorsement from Putin. Older citizens and women tend to be the most likely to have less favorable views of Trump’s presidency if the president’s actions are endorsed by Putin. Contrary to the narrative of an (Un)holy Alliance between Russia and the far-right, individuals with conservative viewpoints are not more receptive to Putin’s influence. Finally, attitudes toward NATO, the EU, and the United States are also not strong moderating variables. We argue that the influence of autocratic voices in other countries may be overstated.

Keywords:

Public opinion, Putin effect, Putin endorsement, Trump effect, Albania Kosovo, Serbia

Session Chair

Labinot Greiçevci

Proceedings Editor

Edmond Hajrizi

ISBN

978-9951-550-19-2

Location

Pristina, Kosovo

Start Date

26-10-2019 11:00 AM

End Date

26-10-2019 11:30 AM

DOI

10.33107/ubt-ic.2019.103

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Oct 26th, 11:00 AM Oct 26th, 11:30 AM

Putin Backfire: Effects of Authoritarian Endorsement in Swing States of Europe

Pristina, Kosovo

Which citizens are most receptive to foreign endorsements from autocrats? New information and communication technologies increasingly allow foreign leaders to shape public opinion outside their borders. Yet, we do not know much about the influence of endorsements outside the United States, especially when the endorsement comes from a non-democratic leader. We explore the influence of autocratic endorsements by studying Vladimir Putin’s influence in three European swing states, Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Our study has two main objectives. First, we identify those dispositions that correlate with Putin-sympathy, testing whether support for Putin is linked to the “conservative values.” While many claim that Russia is promoting a kind of old Holy Alliance, there is mixed evidence that individuals with far-right attitudes tend to support Putin. Second, we use a survey experiment (N=1,653) to assess whether Putin’s endorsement impacts attitudes. Our study makes several theoretical and empirical contributions. While a growing body of research shows that foreign actors can shape public opinion, others show that foreign cues are ineffective or even counter-productive. However, existing research has primary studied foreign cues in the United States, which limits what this body of research can say about the effect of foreign endorsements on citizens’ political attitudes outside Western democracies. We analyze the influence of foreign endorsement in countries typically overlooked by political scientists and assess how various individual-level factors, other than partisanship and political awareness, shape receptivity to foreign voices. Moreover, given Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia’s diverse historical, cultural, and economic ties with Russia, we distinguish between country-level and individual-level moderators of foreign endorsements. Second, prior studies tend to focus on cues from international organizations. In reality, most individuals do not have strong priors toward NGOs, meaning these studies may not represent how people actually receive information from international actors. We focus on estimating the effect of cues from foreign leaders, which tend to be more salient, and consequently, more persuasive. Third, given the growing attention to autocrats’ efforts to reshape global politics by manipulating public opinion, it is important to assess how cues from non-democratic leaders affect foreign policy attitudes. Few studies explicitly analyze how endorsement from autocrats shift foreign policy views, focusing instead on endorsement from Western democracies or international organizations. By studying what influence autocratic leaders have on public opinion outside their borders, we are able to comment on the mechanism by which autocrats can manipulate political outcomes in democratic settings. Therefore, we also contribute to a growing literature on Russia’s international influence, particularly Putin’s ability to manipulate global public opinion. We test our hypotheses with cellphone RDD simple random samples collected in Albania, Kosovo and Serbia in winter 2017-2018. We yield several notable and unexpected findings. First, we show that while support for NATO is associated negatively with sympathy for Putin, feeling toward the US and EU have no effect. The relationship between conservative values and pro-Putin attitudes is mixed. Believing that anti-homosexuality predicts pro-Putin views in Albania but not in Serbia. Interestingly, pro-immigration attitudes are associated with a sympathy for Putin in Albania but have the opposite effect in Serbia. We emphasize the importance of not overemphasizing the relationship between individual-level variables and support for autocratic leaders since these associations can vary based on geopolitical context. Second, we find that endorsements from Vladimir Putin backfire - decreasing people’s belief that Trump presidency will be good for their countries. The backfire effect is strongest in Albania, demonstrating that geopolitical orientation is a prominent moderating factor. Moreover, we find that age and sex strongly influence whether people accept an endorsement from Putin. Older citizens and women tend to be the most likely to have less favorable views of Trump’s presidency if the president’s actions are endorsed by Putin. Contrary to the narrative of an (Un)holy Alliance between Russia and the far-right, individuals with conservative viewpoints are not more receptive to Putin’s influence. Finally, attitudes toward NATO, the EU, and the United States are also not strong moderating variables. We argue that the influence of autocratic voices in other countries may be overstated.