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Working paper

How to Get Away with Murder in Russia: Political Support in the Times of Crisis. Evidence from the survey experiment

Economic crises are expected to erode domestic political support for the existing regime. However, in comparison with democracies, autocracies enjoy more of a leeway responding to economic downturns due to their ability to strengthen their clientelist ties and increase the level of repression (’the tragic brilliance’). Since 2013, the Russian economy has been undergoing a deep and protracted recession, which was further aggravated by the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent imposition of international sanctions. The latter slashed the purchasing capacity and disposable income of the Russian citizens by half. At the same time, the annexation of Crimea provided the regime with a significant boost in popularity. The latter consolidated the citizens and reinvigorated the feeling of national pride. Taking into consideration these two contradictory tendencies – economic downturn and patriotic consolidation – is there evidence of Russian citizens willing to punish the incumbent authorities for the economic crisis? Does the ’the rally around the flag’ help the incumbent in the times of economic crisis? We carried out a survey experiment on the eve of the State Duma elections in August 2016 to scrutinize the causal effects of perception of crisis and patriotic uprising on political blame attribution. First, we find the priming effect of question about Crimea: those who were exposed to this question evaluate the president more favorably, but this tendency does not extend to their assessment of the State Duma and the government. Those exposed to the question about the economic crisis, reveal a more critical assessment of the State Duma and the government, while the president’s approval remains unchanged. The State Duma does not benefit from ’the rally ‘round the flag’, while the president is not punished for the crisis. Second, when we compare the mediation effect of the rally ‘round the flag under economic crisis with the economic crisis alone, we find that the presidential support increases while those of the State Duma and the government decreases. In the opposite case, when economic crisis intervenes with patriotic fervor - the president’s support is not affected, while the Duma and the government do not seem to benefit.