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Guns to Butter: Sociotropic Concerns and Foreign Policy Preferences in Russia

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On the concept of “rally around the flag,” scholars often argue that by invoking the danger of external threats in times of economic hardship, leaders can rally the public around the government in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Alternative streams of literature suggest that a darkening economic reality (“butter”) may weaken the impact of patriotic euphoria (“guns”). I conducted an experimental survey to measure changes in foreign policy preferences among respondents exposed to negative economic primes in Russia. In line with the earlier findings on this topic, my analysis shows that participants who encounter negative economic primes report significantly less support for assertive foreign policy narratives. These results suggest that continuing economic strain may limit the Kremlin’s ability to divert public attention from internal problems through the use of assertive rhetoric.

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