Publications

  • "Eurasia and Post-Communism: Weasel Words?" (2020). East European Politics and Societies, Vol.34, No.2. With Yoshiko M. Herrera and Dmitrii Kofanov.
  • "Sovereignty and Regionalism in Eurasia." (2018) In: Paasi, Anssi, John Harrison, and Martin Jones (eds.). Elgar Handbook on the Geographies of Regions and Territories. Edward Elgar Publishing. With Dmitrii Kofanov and Yoshiko M. Herrera.
  • "Public Administration in Russia." (2013) In: Liebert, Saltanat, Stephen E. Condrey, and Dmitry Goncharov (eds.). Public Administration in Post-Communist Countries: Former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, and Mongolia. Routledge. With Dmitry Goncharov.

Working Papers

  • Who Trusts State-Run Media? Polarized Perceptions of Credibility in Non-Democracies

    Authoritarian regimes systematically spread disinformation and propaganda through state-run media, but in many non-democracies, such state media are popular and relatively trusted. I argue that one explanation for this surprising outcome is government supporters' preference for like-minded content. I outline a theory of politically motivated reasoning about media under authoritarian rule and test its main implications via a series of surveys and experiments in Russia. Employing a novel experimental design, I find that supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin trust reports from state-run media more than do Putin critics; they also perceive state media as more accurate, while being skeptical of critical, independent media. Putin critics, on the other hand, trust critical media more and find these media more accurate. The usage of state-run and critical news organizations also differs dramatically between supporters and critics. Such political differences in perceptions of media may help governments to manipulate public opinion and reduce the threat that independent media pose to authoritarian rule.

  • Fake News and the Polarization of Beliefs in Non-Democracies: Evidence from Russia

    I examine how citizens in an authoritarian media environment make judgments about the veracity of news stories. In particular, I am interested whether the quality of these judgments depends on how much citizens are exposed to state propaganda and on their political views. My analysis is based on two online studies that I designed and conducted, in which over 46,000 Russians evaluated almost 80 true and false news headlines. On average, citizens who learn their news from state media and those who support Russian President Vladimir Putin do not perform substantially worse than more critically-minded respondents. However, I find large political biases in the evaluations of news stories. Respondents with pro-government orientations often fail to recognize false stories with a pro-government slant, whereas those with critical orientations often fail to recognize false stories that go against the propaganda narratives. At the same time, both groups of citizens are overly skeptical in the evaluations of true, but politically incongruent messages. Putin supporters or critics are even more polarized in their perceptions of news information if they only follow politically congruent media. These biases can have major consequences for citizens' political knowledge and news awareness.

  • Is Trust in Media Decreasing? Evidence from the World Values Survey

    Scholars and observers are increasingly concerned that confidence in mainstream media is decreasing, which could undermine the democratic political process and make citizens more vulnerable to manipulation. Various surveys have documented dwindling confidence in media in the U.S. and other democracies, but so far this research has not established whether this decline is a global trend. I suggest a more robust approach using data from the World Values Survey to establish worldwide trends in attitudes. The resulting analysis shows there has been some decline in confidence in media since the early 1990s, but there is no evidence of a decline among stable democracies. Confidence in media has been decreasing instead in democratizing countries and other states that have undergone substantial political changes.

  • A Model of Censorship and Propaganda (With Scott Gehlbach, Zhaotian Luo, and Dmitriy Vorobyev)

    A fundamental constraint of information design is that propaganda must be believed to be effective. The presence of outside information tightens this constraint. We extend the canonical two-state, two-action of Bayesian persuasion to endogenize the presence of such information. The sender (government) chooses both the precision of an outside signal—it chooses a level of censorship—and a probability distribution over propaganda messages, where the distribution can be conditioned on the outside signal. The government bears an opportunity cost of censorship, in that the government relies on outside information to decide whether to repress rather than persuade. In equilibrium, the government may employ censorship and propaganda alongside repression; many combinations of propaganda and censorship may be behaviorally equivalent. Under plausible additional assumptions, we predict a positive correlation between censorship and propaganda that is decreasing in the cost of repression.

  • The Oligarch Vanishes: Defensive Ownership, Property Rights, and Political Connections (With John Earle, Scott Gehlbach and Solomiya Shpak)

    We examine the use of proxies, shell companies, and offshore firms to defend property against seizure by private and state actors. Our theoretical framework emphasizes the role of political connections in defensive ownership. Linking information from investigative journalists on the key holdings of numerous Ukrainian oligarchs with firm-level administrative data on formal ownership ties, we observe some form of defensive ownership among more than two-thirds of oligarch-controlled firms, but such conduct is much less common for those connected to the incumbent regime. Further exploiting the abrupt shock to political connections that accompanied the Orange Revolution, we find a sharp rise in defensive ownership among previously connected oligarchs.

  • Smart Ways to Use a Postcommunist Dummy (With Dmitrii Kofanov and Yoshiko M. Herrera)

    A fundamental constraint of information design is that propaganda must be believed to be effective. The presence of outside information tightens this constraint. We extend the canonical two-state, two-action of Bayesian persuasion to endogenize the presence of such information. The sender (government) chooses both the precision of an outside signal—it chooses a level of censorship—and a probability distribution over propaganda messages, where the distribution can be conditioned on the outside signal. The government bears an opportunity cost of censorship, in that the government relies on outside information to decide whether to repress rather than persuade. In equilibrium, the government may employ censorship and propaganda alongside repression; many combinations of propaganda and censorship may be behaviorally equivalent. Under plausible additional assumptions, we predict a positive correlation between censorship and propaganda that is decreasing in the cost of repression.

  • Legislatures and Executive Recruitment in Autocracies: Does Parliamentary Behavior Matter?

    Interbranch mobility, and more specifically, recruitment of legislators into executive offices, is common for authoritarian regimes, but the role of legislative behavior in this selection remains unclear. Do legislatures serve as testing grounds, allowing autocrats to screen and evaluate candidates? Does legislative effort improve chances of a subsequent executive career? I examine the logic of appointments from parliament using a newly collected data set that covers biographies and parliamentary behavior of legislators who served in the Russian State Duma from 2004 to 2016. I find evidence that Duma members who apply more effort in legislative work are more likely to continue their parliamentary careers, but legislative effort in the Duma does not appear to increase the chances of appointment. Instead, my findings suggest that deputies are recruited into executive offices primarily on the basis of their previous work experience, their party membership, and possibly personal ties. Parliamentary service, however, may help legislators get ahead by making them more visible to government leadership.