The survey experiment will be conducted online on a sample of 4000 respondents residing in one of the four regions of Russia, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Kemerovo oblasts and Krasnoyarskiy Krai. In each region I aim to enroll around 1000 respondents in each region. The choice of regions for the study is primarily driven by (a) the overlap with the location of the initial study conducted last year in Novosibirsk region, (b) the fact that all for regions in this study were affected by large scale natural forest fires that happened in Siberia this summer, and (c) two out of four regions have at least some level of government (either municipal in Novosibirsk, or regional in Irkutsk) controlled by the Communist Party member, that in local elections, especially in Siberia, openly opposes rulling party, United Russia.
The treatment media reports will include one video excerpt per treatment per region. In each region the media reports are chosen from the previously aired news coverage of the local branch of Rossia-1 TV channel owned directly by the federal government. The main news broadcast on Rossia-1 TV channel, Vesti, airs at least 3 times every day and includes national economic, political and cultural news as well as coverage of local events specific to the region, where the viewer resides. In each of the four regions in the study Rossia-1 was in top-10 most cited local media outlets in 2018 according to the media research company Medialogia. In addition, Vesti consistently ranks among the top viewed TV broadcasts in Russia according to Medialogia reports.
For the intervention I plan to use news reports on three topics in each region: (D) Responsibility attribution for preventing and combating natural forest fires (as a part of overall natural disaster relief policy); (R) Responsibility attribution for road construction and repairs (as a part of overall transport infrastructure development); and (P) Coverage of the birthday of prominent Russian actor (as a placebo news report unrelated to domestic policy or government performance). For the forest fires coverage I will use the coverage from Vesti broadcast on visit of Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitriy Medvedev, to one of the study regions (Krasnoyarsk), where he states that primary responsibility for forest fires is on regional and municipal governments rather than on national government. For road construction/repairs, the selected intervention video again comes from _Vesti_ broadcast and covers the general assembly of all heads of regions in Russia where Prime Minister, Dmitriy Medvedev, again states that primary responsibility for poor quality of roads is on regional and municipal governments rather than on national government. Finally, the placebo video used in the study also comes from Vesti broadcast but unlike D and R videos will cover event unrelated to policy or government performance: Birthday of prominent Russian actor. All reports used in the study share the same length (around 1 minute) and quality (come from the same news broadcast) to assure symmetricity of presentation of information and only vary the contents.
The proposed intervention aims to induce shock to beliefs about allocation of responsibility for specific policy (infrastructure or natural disaster relief) between different levels of government without strongly affecting beliefs about policy performance or media bias. While this is a matter of empirical verification, several substantive factors make it plausible that proposed treatment video reports might primarily affect beliefs about responsibility allocation:
1. In both treatment video reports the statement about responsibility allocation is delivered by Prime Minister of Russia, as opposed to narrator, and are strongly highlighted as federal government position;
2. Both policies covered in treatment videos are highly visible with forest fires being one of the most discussed issues of the year in Russian media. This in turn implies that respondents in the study are likely to have strong prior beliefs about the policy outcomes;
3. Both treatment video reports feature blame-shifting by the federal government, and mention problems of respective policies in general. This, combined with (2) above, implies that respondents are unlikely to find the information on policy performance contained in the treatment reports novel;
4. The media outlet, Rossia-1 used in the study is one of the most popular TV channels in Russia, and majority of respondent in the study are expected to have prior experience and fairly stable beliefs about the bias of the news coverage by Rossia-1 channel prior to viewership of the treatment video reports.
Exact wording and example screenshots from the news reports used in ths study can be found in the accompanying Pre-Analysis Plan, Appendix.