Campus News

UW-Madison experts discuss Russian influence in 2016 U.S. presidential election

A look back at the UW-Madison 2018-19' academic year. 

A look back at the UW-Madison 2018-19' academic year. 

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A panel of four UW-Madison experts answered questions Tuesday evening on the nature and impact of Russian influence in the recent U.S. presidential election.

The event — held at the Pyle Center — comes less than a week after 13 Russian nationals were indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury for interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Ted Gerber, director of the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia, moderated the event, asking each professor questions related to their field of expertise.

Scott Gehlbach, a UW-Madison professor of political science and expert on Russian politics, discussed possible motives for the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. election, saying it may have been a way to convince the Russian population that other countries’ elections are also not free and fair.

“It’s hard to argue that Russian elections are free and fair — [Russians] know that, too,” Gehlbach said. “If you can convince them that elections everywhere are not free and fair, then maybe they’re less likely to protest against the way that things are run at home.”

Barry Burden, Elections Research Center director and professor of political science, said efforts are being made by the U.S. government to improve election security.

However, the Trump administration may prevent Congress from passing bills related to election security, he said.

“There’s one part of the government that’s not cooperating, and that’s the Trump administration,” Burden said. “He’s thin-skinned and worried about his election looking illegitimate if he admitted that Russians played some role in affecting the outcome.”

The panelists all agreed that trends of election interference and hacking efforts by Russians and potentially other countries are likely to continue in the future.

“Russians have learned what works in 2016,” Burden said. “And they are preparing to repeat a lot of that in 2018.”

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