Affect and Autocracy: Emotions and Attitudes in Russia after Crimea
By Samuel A. Greene, Shepherd University and Graeme Robertson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Our understanding of modern authoritarianism lacks a satisfying explanation for the genuine popularity of autocrats. While most of the literature on authoritarianism focuses on coercion, institutional manipulation, or clientelism, many contemporary autocrats clearly enjoy enthusiastic support even in times of economic stagnation or decline. We argue that part of the solution lies in unpacking the role of emotions in building support for rulers. Drawing on a unique panel survey conducted shortly before and after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, we discover that the resulting “rally” around the authoritarian flag involves much more than simply support for the leader or a simple increase in nationalism. Rather, we witness a broad shift in respondents’ emotional orientation. Driven by the shared experience of the Crimean “moment,” this shift improves people’s evaluation of their social, political, and economic surroundings in the present, the future—and even the past. The result is a new explanation of the nonmaterial means through which autocrats may succeed in bolstering their legitimacy.