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The effectiveness of narratives in changing the attitudes of Russians toward the war against Ukraine (“special military operation” or “SMO”)

OMI Psychological Study
August 17, 2022

Executive Summary

Backed by the relevant statistical data and a between-group design experiment, this Report unveils which narratives may effectively change the attitudes among Russians toward the war their country is waging against Ukraine. while it also highlights the messages, which have no or limited impact to shape public opinion in Russia.

Final sample:

N = 916, 469 males, 447 females. Mean age: 37.6, SD = 11.6.

The key factors affecting the relevant attitudes are:

  • China’s increased influence in Russia because of the war;
  • the war will negatively affect the financial condition of an average Russian citizen making him or her poorer; and
  • the war will result in the average Russian citizen having to pay for the war out of his or her own pocket.

Key Findings

  • Respondents answered a series of socio-demographic questions and then read one of the texts randomly provided to them. The relevant texts concerned (a) Putin's likely terminal illness, (b) China’s growing influence on Russia following Russia’s weakening as a result of the war, (c) Russians paying for the recovery of territories captured by their troops and subsequent deteriorating quality of life, (d) high probability of nuclear war if hostilities continue and (e) the brain drain from Russia due to the war and crisis.

  • The control group read a neutral text of a nonpolitical nature about psychological traits associated with addiction to alcohol. Afterwards, the participant of our experiment answered several questions about their support for the “special military operation” (SMO) in Ukraine.

  • At the first glance, we did not reveal significant differences on the issue of support for the “SMO” among the groups. However, if we compare some of the narratives pairwise with control group, there are some significant findings.

  • Pairwise comparison of the groups reading a neutral narrative (the control group) and the narrative about China’s growing hostile influence showed significant differences. In particular, the representatives of the group that read about China were significantly less supportive of the “SMO” and significantly more willing to support the end of the “special military operation” at the referendum).

  • The group that read the text about the need for Russians to pay for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged territories of Ukraine captured by Russia also differed significantly from the control group in their attitude toward the war against Ukraine. They are less likely to support the special military operation.

  • Other differences between the groups are not statistically significant.

Conclusion

  • Russians’ attitudes toward the war against Ukraine may be influenced by information that China is hostile to Russia, treating it as an opponent, as well as reports that the war will make them poorer and pay for the recovery of territories occupied by Russia out of their own pockets.

  • News reports about President Putin’s terminal illness, the high probability of nuclear war, and the brain drain from Russia as a result of the war seem to have little or no effect on support for the war.