Russia’s Media Mentions of 2020 Democratic Candidates
by Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute, November, 2019
U.S. officials continually remind us that Russia’s interference in U.S. elections has not stopped and is expected to continue up to and through next year’s vote on November 3, 2020. But Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election will be different from their 2016 playbook. Kremlin influence campaigns continually evolve and adapt as social media companies take down their accounts and the U.S. government implements defensive measures.
Current assessments of Russian disinformation focus heavily on social media accounts of unknown or uncertain attribution. At this point, there may be more people looking for Internet Research Agency accounts and bots than there are Internet Research Agency employees. I would assess that the political campaign and election-related swarms of computational propaganda present on social media in recent weeks originate more frequently from domestic sources rather than foreign ones.
To understand Russia’s upcoming influence and interference activities, I offer an alternative approach: read and listen to what Russia says publicly first before scouring piles of social media data in search of their trolls. Whether it’s 2016 or 2020, the Kremlin doesn’t hide its opinions on who it’d like in the White House. Analysis of overt foreign propaganda provides essential reconnaissance for searching out covert social media influence. Collation of Kremlin talking points about candidates also helps to distinguish international disinformation from domestic disinformation and misinformation.
To understand where, why, how and for whom Russia might interfere in the 2020 presidential election, the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Foreign Influence Election 2020 (FIE 2020) Project has assembled a research team to read, analyze and report on what Kremlin state-sponsored news outlets say with regards to the 2020 U.S. election and the presidential candidates.
The FIE 2020 Project’s first batch of analysis examines the following question:
“What does Russian state media say about the Democratic candidates?”
The research team analyzed 1,711 Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News articles from January 1 to November 10, 2019 that pertained to the 2020 presidential election (705 RT stories, 1,006 Sputnik News stories). Those 1,711 stories hosted 2,772 mentions of either the president, Republican candidates or Democratic candidates for president in 2020. More than half of those mentions referenced President Trump, which will be analyzed in a separate upcoming post. The team also logged an additional 319 mentions of former presidents and presidential candidates, which will be analyzed separately as well. Mentions were evaluated as “neutral,” “favorable” of the candidate or “unfavorable” of the candidate. (For more on the FIE 2020 methodology, see here.)
The 1,203 mentions of Democratic candidates quickly illustrated the Kremlin’s preferences amongst the Democratic field and, in particular, who they likely don’t want to see inaugurated in January 2021. Here are some highlights from this first round of analysis regarding the Democratic candidates along with two charts. Figure 1 represents the distribution of mentions and Figure 2 shows the count of mentions assessed on each media outlet….
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is the overwhelming favorite of Kremlin news outlets
- Since January 1, 2019, Gabbard has been mentioned 61 times, ranking sixth in total mentions just behind O’Rourke.
- Gabbard is the only candidate assessed to receive more positive mentions (28) than negative mentions (6), and more positive mentions (28) than neutral mentions (27).
read … Full Report
ILind: Report finds Russian propaganda favors Tulsi