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The Television Versus the Internet Versus Reality in Russia

Many people view public opinion in Russia as divided into those who get their news from television and largely support the government and those how get their news from the internet and are typically more critical. This view can be traced in part to the important role of social media in the protests against the government of late 2011 and early 2012.

Data from the Levada Center over the last two weeks do not fit that picture. They show almost no difference in the attitudes of those who usually get their news from television and those who usually get their news from the internet on questions related to personal freedom, the law on foreign agents, and the possibility of a dictatorship in Russia. This surprised me.

It could be that the internet is becoming so commonplace that the divide is narrowing, that the rally around the flag effect is unusually broad in Russia, or that people are starting to trust television less than in the past. There is evidence that the last is a possibility as a recent Levada Poll showed that just 41 percent of Russians trust television most of all for getting news about their country and the world. (Among Putin supporters, 43 percent say that they trust television the most, while among those who do not approve of Putin, the figure is 29 percent. Of course, only about 15 percent of respondents do not approve of Putin so it is best to not make too much out of the latter number.)

More importantly, the percentage of those who identified television as their most trusted source of news was 50 percent in March 2014 and 79 percent in August 2009, and just 41 percent last month. These are substantial drops over a relatively short period of time. Perhaps the much vaunted Kremlin public relations campaign on Channel One is stalling in the face of the economic slowdown, and a lack of progress in Ukraine and Syria.

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