The 2016 elections thrust Russian electoral interference into the spotlight in the US. But it was not new to GQR, which had been working for over a decade in Central European elections and which had repeatedly helped Western-oriented leaders in that region counter Russian electoral interference. In our work in countries including Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Moldova, and Estonia, GQR has helped leaders and political parties respond to the range of techniques Russia uses to influence other countries’ elections.
In GQR’s work for pro-Western leaders across Central Europe, GQR has relied on key strategies for battling the Kremlin playbook of deception, distraction, and subversion. First, we rely on deep listening among voters. We probe how they get their information, what sources they trust, what networks they rely on, and what types of information capture their attention, ire, or aspiration. This allows us to go to where voters are – online and offline – so we can determine early on what types of misinformation and Russian-backed information we need to fight against, and which we can safely ignore.
Beyond the online environment, GQR has helped leaders and campaigns in the region strengthen their arguments to voters about the values and benefits that support their geostrategic outlook toward the West. We have used focus groups and surveys to help campaigns make the most motivating cases for seeking NATO membership, moving toward the EU, and supporting liberal democratic norms.
Our international practice’s Digital team draws on experience assessing online threats and responding to foreign influence campaigns from work in Europe, and applies and contextualizes these lessons for US political races. In the 2018 midterms, we worked on behalf of half a dozen statewide races in the US, specifically to identify foreign-backed trolls and bots and other online threats. We have helped campaigns organize themselves to counter these threats and build trust-based relationships with their audiences, so they are less vulnerable to foreign influence.