Foreign Meddling in US Elections Affects Allies’ Trust, Study Finds
When respondents were told that American democracy wasn’t working reliably, they lost faith in the U.S. commitment to partnerships.
Efforts by Russia, Iran, and other countries to interfere with U.S. elections can affect how citizens from allied countries perceive their partnership with the United States, according to a recent study by researchers in Australia.
The researchers asked more than 2,000 Japanese respondents how confident they were that the United States would come to Japan’s aid in a conflict, and how confident that the U.S. would be able to do so.
Researchers then presented the respondents with information about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The respondents became less confident in the willingness of the United States to defend Japan and in also its ability to do so—but only when they were also told that experts “say it is no longer possible to say that American democracy is functioning well.”
The researchers found that “the significant differences between the treatment effects suggest that Japanese people’s faith in the United States as an ally is higher when they are informed that US democracy is functioning vis-à-vis not functioning, given Russian electoral interference.”
The study shows that foreign election interference in U.S. politics doesn’t just affect the conversation in the United States but those in allied nations. This is particularly true among the three-quarters of U.S. allies whose partnership with the United States is supported by shared democratic values.
Since 2016, U.S. institutions have grown more adept in spotting and warning about foreign efforts to interfere in elections. But it remains difficult to say just how much such efforts affect any given election. It’s nearly impossible to point to a causal relationship between Russia’s hacking of the DNC (and subsequent use of social media) and the victory of former President Donald Trump. University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson argued in 2018 that a link is visible; Emory political science professor Alan Abramowitz concluded in 2019 that no causal link can be found, at least not in any key states.
But the Australian study shows that the perception of successful interference can be just as damaging to foreign partnerships as the interference itself.