- The Media under Autocracy: Essays on Domestic Politics and Government Support in RussiaSyunyaev, Georgiy2022
A free and competitive media environment is the cornerstone of political accountability. News media provide citizens with the information necessary to assess policy performance and attribute it to the correct political actors. Many non-democratic governments attempt to manipulate citizens’ beliefs about the competence and performance of political leaders by controlling the news media. In this dissertation, I investigate the extent to which this strategy is effective. I conduct a series of online experiments in Russia, a prominent modern autocracy. The three chapters of this dissertation illuminate how the public reacts to the coverage of domestic politics by state-controlled media; whether independent local media in an otherwise controlled media environment can give rise to partial accountability; and how citizens’ prior experiences, knowledge, and beliefs moderate what citizens learn from the news.
Chapter 1 studies a kind of coverage produced by many state-owned media: messages that target citizens’ perceptions of whether the central or the local government is responsible for policy outcomes. I report results from a survey experiment with over 4,000 respondents in Russia. The experiment randomly assigned respondents to watch news reports from Russia’s popular state-owned TV channel, Rossia-1. The reports emphasize the central government’s monitoring of road maintenance and natural disaster management – two policies that fall under the purview of local governments. My findings suggest that even though the reports did not shift beliefs about the locus of policy responsibility, they improved policy performance perceptions and increased government support. One explanation for these findings is that citizens know that the central government would only associate itself with local policies if the performance is high. I show that my findings are consistent with a Bayesian learning model in which citizens can be aware of biased media reporting strategy and update positively on policy performance and government competence when they observe central government associating itself with the policy. The broader implication is that propaganda can be effective not despite, but because citizens know that news outlets are controlled by the government.
In Chapter 2, I focus on the effects of independent news outlets in an otherwise controlled media environment. Existing empirical evidence suggests that such news outlets can decrease support for the government, encourage collective action and ultimately lead to regime change. In this chapter, I show that the information provided by media outlets that are not controlled by the government can have limited effects on citizens’ beliefs. I rely on data from an experiment conducted in one of the largest cities in Russia, Novosibirsk. I show residents pre-recorded local news reports on one of the most salient policy issues, healthcare delivery. Despite high compliance rates, the effects of exposure to local independent media reports are limited. I also find no evidence for treatment effect heterogeneity across a number of dimensions. Overall, these findings cast doubt on the ability of independent local media to bring about partial accountability.
Chapter 3 investigates another type of coverage that is common in state-controlled media environments: messages that attribute successes in macroeconomic policy to an authoritarian leader. I propose a simple model of belief-updating in which citizens are simultaneously uncertain about the government’s competence and the bias of the media source. Since macroeconomic performance is difficult to observe for citizens, the model in this chapter allows the media outlet to lie about government competence. The model makes predictions about the types of citizens who are most and least susceptible to being persuaded. I derive hypotheses about the effects of propaganda on citizens’ beliefs about government competence and media bias. To test the model’s predictions, I design and implement an online panel experiment that uses news reports from the leading state-owned TV channel in Russia. Contrary to the model’s predictions, I find that positive policy events presented by biased media can backfire and lead citizens to worsen their perception of policy performance and government competence.
- NatMedCOVID-19 vaccine acceptance and hesitancy in low- and middle-income countriesSolı́s Arce, Julio S, Warren, Shana S, Meriggi, Niccolò F, Scacco, Alexandra, McMurry, Nina, Voors, Maarten, Syunyaev, Georgiy, Malik, Amyn Abdul, Aboutajdine, Samya, Adeojo, Opeyemi, and others,Nature Medicine 2021
Widespread acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines is crucial for achieving sufficient immunization coverage to end the global pandemic, yet few studies have investigated COVID-19 vaccination attitudes in lower-income countries, where large-scale vaccination is just beginning. We analyze COVID-19 vaccine acceptance across 15 survey samples covering 10 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in Asia, Africa and South America, Russia (an upper-middle-income country) and the United States, including a total of 44,260 individuals. We find considerably higher willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine in our LMIC samples (mean 80.3%; median 78%; range 30.1 percentage points) compared with the United States (mean 64.6%) and Russia (mean 30.4%). Vaccine acceptance in LMICs is primarily explained by an interest in personal protection against COVID-19, while concern about side effects is the most common reason for hesitancy. Health workers are the most trusted sources of guidance about COVID-19 vaccines. Evidence from this sample of LMICs suggests that prioritizing vaccine distribution to the Global South should yield high returns in advancing global immunization coverage. Vaccination campaigns should focus on translating the high levels of stated acceptance into actual uptake. Messages highlighting vaccine efficacy and safety, delivered by healthcare workers, could be effective for addressing any remaining hesitancy in the analyzed LMICs.
- RJEHow (not) to measure Russian regional institutionsBaranov, Alexey, Malkov, Egor, Polishchuk, Leonid, Rochlitz, Michael, and Syunyaev, GeorgiyRussian Journal of Economics 2015
The paper explores various measures of institutional quality in Russian regions, and compares those measures to each other. Such analysis leads to the conclusion that Russian regional institutions are essentially multidimensional, and therefore comparisons of Russian regions in terms of their overall institutional quality could be problematic. New institutional indices are derived from Russian enterprise surveys held under the BEEPS project of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Such indices yield a typology of Russian regions in terms of efficacy of regional administrations’ control over economy and bureaucracy in their regions. Dynamics of regional institutional indices is investigated against the backdrop of Russia-wide institutional trends.
- PubChoiceRuling elites’ rotation and asset ownership: implications for property rightsPolishchuk, Leonid, and Syunyaev, GeorgiyPublic Choice 2015
We provide a theory and empirical evidence indicating that the rotation of ruling elites in conjunction with elites’ asset ownership could improve property rights protection in non-democracies. The mechanism that upholds property rights is based on elites’ concern about the security of their own asset ownership in the event they lose power. Such incentives provide a solution to the credible commitment problem in maintaining secure property rights when institutional restrictions on expropriation are weak or absent.
- Federalism and IdeologySyunyaev, Georgiy, Wilke, Anna M, and Ting, Michael MUnder review
Classic arguments about federalist governance emphasize an informational or learning role for decentralizing policy authority, but in practice ideological outcomes frequently motivate this choice. We examine the role of ideology in the allocation of policy-making power by modeling an infinite horizon interaction between an elected central executive and two local governments. Decentralization reduces the executive’s ability to set policy and control externalities, but potentially insures against future policy reversals. In this environment, partial decentralization is a common outcome. Complete decentralization arises when executives are unlikely to be re-elected, party polarization is high, and institutional hurdles to policy-making are big. These results help to clarify existing cross-national empirical findings on the determinants of centralization. The model also shows that a welfare-motivated constitutional designer may not want to allow politicians to re-allocate policy-making power over time.
Work in Progress
- Learning about Bias: An Experiment on News Consumption in RussiaShirikov, Anton, and Syunyaev, GeorgiyData collection
Most media that people consume exhibit certain political biases or slants. However, many citizens either do not understand or underestimate the slant of the media they consume. This study proposes a new experimental design to investigate whether making media slant more evident affects how citizens perceive news coverage and update their political beliefs. Our experimental intervention fielded on an online survey platform in Russia exposes respondents to a substantial amount of news coverage by major pro-government and independent television channels and, at the same time, makes respondents more attentive to the slant of news reporting. Our panel design allows us to examine the subsequent impact of the intervention on respondents’ perceptions of media, willingness to consume particular media outlets, and evaluations of the economy and government performance.
- Persuasion Through Propaganda: Experimental Evidence from RussiaRozenas, Arturas, Stukal, Denis, and Syunyaev, GeorgiyDesign stage
When are biased media persuasive and whose beliefs can it affect the most and the least? How do people infer the degree of bias in the media? To address these questions in a structured manner, we propose a simple model of belief-updating in which citizens are uncertain about the competence of their government and they are also uncertain about the bias of the media source, which tells them that the government is competent. Upon observing a message from the media, citizens make a simultaneous inference about the content of the message and the bias of the source. The model generates the following results: First, exposure to state-controlled media can simultaneously increase the citizen’s belief that the government is competent and that the media is biased. Second, updating on competence is weaker for citizens who a priori think that the media is biased and updating on media bias is weaker for citizens who a priori think that the government is competent. We propose two experimental designs to test the predictions of the model.
- The Effects of Internet Access on Political Opinions and BehaviorDesign stage
The goal of this project is to study the effects of internet access on a range of social, economic and political outcomes in poor communities in South Africa. The main intervention consists of the installation of WiFi routers with free Internet access in a number of households. The routers enable members of the household (and possibly some of the neighbors) to access the internet for free. Currently, the residents of these communities - even though they often own a device that would allow them to connect to the internet - face prohibitively high costs of internet access due to the costs of airtime. We further propose a cross-cutting treatment that consists of the provision of information on the start page which individuals see whenever they access the internet. The aim of this cross-cutting treatment is to encourage individuals to take advantage of the internet as an informational resource rather than a mere entertainment opportunity. The social, economic and political outcomes of interest to this project will be measured through an in-person survey of the treated and untreated households.