Survey: Public distrust – West vs. East, the Rise of Nationalism in the Disinformation Era and the Fake News Phenomenon
General conclusions of the survey
- The survey data reveal a strong adherence of Romanians to core western values, coupled with stricter expectations and demand for more pragmatic advantages of Euro-Atlantic integration amid the strengthening of a wave favoring views that are close to nationalist ideology. Economic patriotism seems to play a key role in the crystallization of these trends, rather than ethnic nationalism, which is more marginal (over 87% of respondents believe that Romania must protect the rights of ethnic minorities on its territory). Romanians are still firmly loyal to the West, appreciating their belonging to western society. However, compared to the unconditional acceptance from 10–15 years ago, the majority of the population has become much more pragmatic in its judgment, which has become filtered by the perception of certain advantages and disadvantages of an economic nature. In other words, Romania seems to have progressed to a new phase of connection with the western world in which the quantification of national interest via economic benefits is beginning to be more strongly acknowledged. This strongly influences the way in which the population interprets various key topics of public interest, such as the perpetuation of the myth of Romania’s exploitation by foreigners.
- The strategic relationship with the United States is interpreted on the same pragmatic note. Three quarters of the population agree that the presence of American military bases in Romania will help defend the country in case of external aggression. Over 70% consider that the U.S.A. has a rather positive influence on Romania. Nevertheless, over 45% believe that the acquisition of advanced weaponry from the U.S.A. helps the arms manufacturers’ profits, rather than the Romanian Army.
- There is a visible dissonance between the net support that Romanians offer the pro-Western geopolitical orientation of the country (over 80% of the population) and views that seem to value the national dimension (for example, over 60% of respondents believe that Romania should defend its national interests when they disagree with the rules of the European Union, even if it risks losing its position as a Member State, despite over 60% also believing that joining the European Union has brought the country more advantages than disadvantages.) The European project and its survival is strongly supported by Romanians, 75% of whom do not believe that the European Union should disband.
- The dissonance is visible in the sense that the adherence of Romanians towards the West is clear and unambiguous, yet we observe an accumulation of frustrations with an obviously economic substratum that are generated by the slow narrowing of the gap between Romania and developed countries and by the feeling of being deliberately exploited by external entities. In this sense, it is relevant that myths fueled by constant disinformation campaigns have managed to cause damage to the collective imagination, given that over 55% of Romanians believe that Romania is a colony of the European Union and of the United States, an opinion that has an obvious economic dimension. Moreover, more than half of the respondents believe that some European countries are blocking Romania’s admission to the Schengen Area for economic reasons, and 55% would be inclined to vote for a party that promoted the nationalization of companies that exploit natural resources.
- Classic elements of the classical nationalist agenda, such as the persecution of foreigners and foreign companies, are beginning to become topics of concern, especially when they are associated with issues of high public sensitivity such as pollution or illegal logging. Almost half of Romanians believe that foreign companies are responsible for illegal logging in Romania, and over 55% believe that the pollution in the country is caused by foreign companies.
- The 16% level of trust in Russia is far behind the 50% and higher reported level of trust in Western countries; however, Russia is visibly more popular among the young, and especially the very young respondents (18–29 years old). The potential of Russia’s positive perception increasing is not to be neglected, given that over 40% of the respondents agree that Russia defends traditional values from the moral decadence of western countries.
- The union of Bessarabia with Romania remains a popular topic among Romanians, even gaining electoral traction if promoted by a sufficiently strong party, confirming the rise of the nationalist strand.
- The Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) is proving to be the most successful political formation in the last 15 years among those that openly assume a nationalist ideology and promote ultra-conservative values. The party’s becoming ranked third among parties supported by Romanian voters reinforces the conclusion that Romania is facing a political wave that is consolidating this political agenda.
- More than half of Romanians believe they have been personally exposed to fake news and disinformation in recent months, and almost 60% believe that some countries support propaganda and disinformation actions in Romania—with Russia, the European Union, and China being the main sources identified by respondents. Seeing awareness of the phenomenon across all audiences is good news that can facilitate the processes of countering the most blatantly disruptive narratives
- More than half of Romanians do not trust any news source, with distrust in the media being one of the worst consequences of the fake news and disinformation phenomena. The most popular channels are, in order: radio, television, media, and social media websites. The ranking indicates that the population correctly identifies the most vulnerable and unfiltered platforms (social networks), thus limiting the spread of fake news.
The surveys and their full analysis can be found in the attachments below.