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Why Do Russian Policymakers Adopt Foreign Models?


Last spring, Associate Professor of Government Sharon Rivera directed the 2016 Hamilton College Levitt Poll, titled “The Russian Elite 2016,” in connection with her course on survey research. The poll was based on 243 face-to-face interviews conducted in February and March 2016 with high-ranking individuals working in Russia’s federal bureaucracy, parliament, military and security agencies, private businesses, state-owned enterprises, academic research institutes, and media outlets. It asked questions about elites’ perceptions of the United States, support for Putin’s foreign policies, views on the crisis in Ukraine, and more.

The survey data contributed to a series of interviews stretching back to 1993, forming a rich cross-sectional database that spans 23 years. Hunter Sobczak ’17, a Russian studies and economics double major, noted, “You could write 1,000 articles” based on this survey. This summer, a Levitt Research Group consisting of Sobczak, James Bryan ’16 and Emma Raynor ’18 will be working on the first of those articles. Building on the survey data, they are researching the diffusion of foreign models into Russia.

The group’s research will be analyzing policy diffusion, the process by which policy choices in one location influence the development of policy in another. The group is first asking whether Russian policymakers are willing to incorporate models of political and economic development from other countries. The group noted that although there has been a rise in anti-Western sentiment among Russian elites recently, approximately two-thirds of Russians still appear receptive to borrowing foreign models, particularly from Germany and other European countries.

The group’s next question asks what factors influence policymakers to incorporate policies or models from other countries. Some prevailing theories hold that policymakers are generally drawn to adopting policies from countries that have a sense of familiarity. For example, Russian policymakers would consider adopting policies from countries that have similar economic and governmental structures. Previous research by Rivera, however, has found that policymakers were more receptive to borrowing from countries that exhibited robust economic performance than those that were geographically proximate or similar to Russia.  

Now the research group is using up-to-date data to find out which factors are most influential for Russian policymakers in 2016.  The results of their project will provide insight into current Russian policy and also help to track shifts in policymaking over time. Not only is the group shedding light on a little-studied issue, they are producing some of the most current research on the views of Russian elites in the world.

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