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One of the most unforgettable facets of the 2016 US presidential elections was the narrative that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to sway the race in favor of Donald Trump. Politicians from both sides denounced the accusations, calling them an enemy of the United States. Russia's attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections demonstrated a substantial uptick in transparency, activity patterns, and level of commitment as compared to prior attempts to meddle in U.S. elections (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA 5). Interestingly, most of the time Trump brushed off the allegations that Russia was trying to meddle with the presidential elections in his favor. This paper discusses how the Russia involvement in the 2016 United States presidential elections including the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email hack, fake and false news, Trump’s campaign and on the election day.
Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton always charged up and spoke out that Trump was encouraging what Russia was trying to do. It became an issue during the third presidential debate when Clinton told Trump that he continues to get help from Putin since he was Putin’s favorite in the presidential race. It is clear that Putin preferred Trump to Clinton. Some of Trump’s ideas were similar to those of Putin. Trump planned to lift the sanctions that had been imposed on Russia and he always praised Putin calling him a strong leader. However, this was not enough to show that Putin wanted Trump to be the president of the U.S.
DNC email Hack
The most concrete and perhaps the most convincing example of how Russia got involved in the polls was the email hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Debbie Wasserman left the position of DNC chair due to the embarrassing emails that were exposed in the following dump. The United States federal intelligence community and the cybersecurity experts expressed confidence that Russian actors were responsible for the hack. According to the Homeland Security Department as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in a statement stated that they believed that some of the top levels of the Russian government ordered the hack as part of the efforts to meddle with the elections (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA 5). A section of the private security analysts also believed that some Russians stole and proceeded to leak emails from John Podesta who served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.
Fake and False News
Russia had state-run propaganda machine which was made up of the local media apparatus, media outlets for the global audience like RT and Sputnik plus a chain of quasi-government trolls that added to the influence campaigns acting as an avenue for Kremlin messaging to both the Russian and the global audience (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA 3)
Russian media websites such as Sputnik and RT were found to have spread false and or fake news at the height of the U.S. elections. For instance, Sputnik released a publication that stated that the John Podesta email dump had some incriminating comments on the Benghazi scandal. The allegation was found to be untrue; however, Trump repeated the untrue story. It remains unclear whether it is the Russian government that directed the publication of these fake and false news. However, it is possible that by publishing these fake and false news, the media websites on their own were just being opportunistic in a bid to drive traffic. Many days before the elections, there were fears among European government leaders that Russian propaganda machine as well as other internet-based strategies was going to sway the electorates (Galston, Ceasar and Persily 65)
Campaigns form one of the most critical elements that helps a candidate to win a presidential election. In the run up to the 2016 presidential elections, both Clinton and Trump campaigned. Issues and policy preference come second among the factors that influence the voters’ choice during polls (Ginsberg, Lowi and Tolbert 226). The issues Trump highlighted issues within and without America and some had a lot to do with Russia. It is without a doubt that before the elections Trump had either done business in Russia or with Russian investments. The best example is when he took the Miss Universe beauty pageant to Moscow, Russia in 2013. Trump indicated a lot of connections to Russia and it is the links that perhaps shaped his policy ideas. However, FBI investigated the issue but failed to find any direct connection between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. As part of the campaigns to see Trump win the elections, Russian state-owned media outlets often made more and more favorable comments about Donald Trump as the elections day approached while at the same time giving more and more negative coverage of Hillary Clinton (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA 3).
On the Election day
Days to the elections, some Russian actors accessed the voter registration system in the state of Arizona and maybe other states. What remains unclear is whether it is the Russian government that had asked them to do so or whether they were just private criminals with nothing to do with the Russian government. With regards to the election day itself, the U.S. government led by President Barrack Obama stated that it believes that the presidential elections were both free and fair from cybersecurity dimension. Some computer system analysts pointed out some anomalies in the results from some of the areas that used the electronic voting system in the swing states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (Galston, Ceasar and Persily 69). The anomalies led to calls for recount of the votes. What followed was claims that Russia was involved in what resulted in the anomalies. However, these allegations have never been proved as true.
In brief, it is evident that Russia was involved in the 2016 United States presidential elections. However, from the evidence, it looks very unlikely that the actions that Russian government undertook in involving itself in the elections had an impact in a decisive way to Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the presidential elections. There is some influence on most of the issue that made headlines during the campaign period like Trump’s advisers who were friendly to Putin pushing him into making statements that were clearly friendly to Putin. The United States and particularly the policymakers ought to be very much concerned of the likelihood that a foreign government attempted to interfere with a domestic election.
Galston, William, James Ceasar and Nathaniel Persily. "The 2016 U.S. Election." Journal of Democracy (2017): 64 - 75. Web.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, et al. We the People. 2017. Print.
Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA. "Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution." 2016. Web.
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