Persuasion Through Propaganda: Experimental Evidence from Russia

Persuasion Through Propaganda: Experimental Evidence from Russia

- 2 mins

Abstract of the project co-authored with Arturas Rozenas and Denis Stukal.

When is propaganda persuasive and whose beliefs can it affect the most and the least? To address this question, we propose a simple model of belief-updating in which citizens are uncertain about the competence of their government, but they are also uncertain about the bias of the media source, which tells them that the government is competent. Upon observing propaganda messages, citizens who are a priori skeptical about the honesty of the media source become even more convinced that the media is biased and do not update their beliefs about the competence of the government. In contrast, citizens who are a priori skeptical about the government’s competence but are not skeptical about the media are most liable to update their beliefs in favor of the government. As a result, propaganda not only fails to persuade those who are a priori skeptical about the honesty of the state media, but it also makes them less likely to be persuaded in the future. The model allows us to identify the types of citizens who are most and least susceptible to being persuaded by propaganda, and allows us to draw structured predictions about the effects of propaganda on the citizens’ beliefs about both the content of the messages as well as the biasedness of the media. We present the experimental design and pre-analysis plan for testing these propositions with a survey experiment in Russia.


  1. Adena, Maja, Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, Veronica Santarosa and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. 2015. “Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany.” Quarterly journal of Economics 130(4):1885–1939.
  2. Bertrand, Marianne, Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2004. “How much should we trust differences-in-differences estimates?” The Quarterly journal of economics 119(1):249–275.
  3. Ditto, Peter H and David F Lopez. 1992. “Motivated skepticism: Use of differential decision criteria for preferred and nonpreferred conclusions.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63(4):568.
  4. Enikolopov, Ruben, Maria Petrova and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. 2011. “Media and political persuasion: Evidence from Russia.”” The American Economic Review 101(7):3253–3285.
  5. Gehlbach, Scott and Konstantin Sonin. 2014. “Government control of the media.” Journal of Public Economics 118(October):163–171.
  6. Guriev, Sergei and Daniel Treisman. 2015. How modern dictators survive: An informational theory of the new authoritarianism. Technical report National Bureau of Economic Research.
  7. Huang, Haifeng. 2015. “Propaganda as Signaling.” Comparative Politics 47(4):419–437.
  8. King, Gary, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E Roberts. 2013. “How censorship in China allows government criticism but silences collective expression.” American Political Science Review 107(02):326–343.
  9. Lord, Charles G, Lee Ross and Mark R Lepper. 1979. “Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: the effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence.” Journal of personality and social psychology 37(11):2098.
rss facebook twitter github youtube mail spotify instagram linkedin google pinterest medium vimeo university