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Regular version of the site

Article

When the party’s over: political blame attribution under an electoral authoritarian regime

Post-Soviet Affairs. 2020. Vol. 36. No. 1. P. 37-60.
Sirotkina E., Zavadskaya M.

Which reaction takes the upper hand: a “rally around the flag,” born of geopolitical success, or grievance over economic misfortune? By means of a survey experiment, we aim to explore the mechanisms of blame and credit when a rally around the flag coincides with a major economic downturn, and we estimate the effects of the Crimean events and the economic crisis on how Russians assess the performance of federal political institutions. Our findings suggest that economic hardships are attributed exclusively to the government and the State Duma, while it is only the president who benefits from the rally around the flag. Moreover, the president receives an additional benefit when the “patriotic unity” priming meets the “economic hardship” priming, thereby resulting in a double rally around the flag effect. This suggests that the president stands apart from state institutions when responsibility is assigned, and he is the only one to enjoy national consolidation around him, which is further reinforced by poor economic conditions. Spotlighting the president increases his popularity and consequently increases the costs of political divides, while the legislature and the government can be exploited as scapegoats for policy failures.