Who Wants to Talk about Refugees

Foreign Interventions in the German Elections

We use this the crisis set off by the arrival of asylum-seekers in Germany to test a theory of the use of propaganda as a strategy by a non-democratic state against a democratic state.  We argue that a non-democracy on a collision course with a democracy will use propaganda discourse to punish recalcitrant elite, and will do so especially near elections, while promoting frames that weaken the opponent’s institutions.  We test these propositions on a corpus of half a million publications, covering Kremlin-backed media channels broadcasting in German, and German media.  We find that Kremlin-backed channels are more likely to publish refugee stories near elections in Germany, and that they push conspiracy theories at the expense of discussing economic or crime-related aspects of immigration.  Our work has implications for the rise of propaganda discourse in Europe and beyond, and for democratic politics under foreign autocratic pressure.  Under review.  Available from SSRN.