Irina Soboleva, Ph.D. Candidate

Columbia University

Country: United States (New York)

About Me:

I am a PhD Candidate in Comparative Politics and Cognitive Psychology at Columbia University in New York. My research compares the dynamics of political participation in advanced and weak democracies. Conceptually, I am interested in the psychological mechanisms behind political alienation and democratic deconsolidation. Empirically, I combine field experiments with ethnographic fieldwork to identify how political efficacy interacts with extreme political skepticism. My current work is supported by the Earth Institutethe Harriman Institute, and the Columbia Global Policy Initiative. My previous research appeared in World PoliticsEurope-Asia StudiesSexuality and CultureRussian PoliticsPost-Soviet Affairs, and Problems of Post-Communism.

Research Interests

Political Psychology

Comparative Democratization

Non-Democratic Regimes

Political Participation

Elections, Election Administration, and Voting Behavior

Political Psychology

Cognitive Science

Democratic Backsliding


Social Psychology

State Formation/consolidation

Political Participation

Countries of Interest



United States


Journal Articles:

(2016) Navalny’s Gamesters: Protest, Opposition Innovation, and Authoritarian Stability in Russia, Russian Politics

This paper explores the legacy of the For Fair Elections (ffe) protest movement in 2011–2012 for electoral competition in Russia. We argue that through strategic innovation, oppositions in authoritarian countries can challenge the autocratic state on multiple fronts by transferring resources from street protests to the electoral arena. Our empirical focus is on Alexei Navalny’s campaign for Moscow mayor in late summer 2013. The successful mass mobilization in the movement enabled the campaign to implement a model of electoral innovation based on ideational frames, resources, and tactics drawn from the protest movement. Voter response was stronger than expected, demonstrating the persistence of voter opposition in the face of genuine electoral choice. Relying on press reports, blogs, campaign materials and interviews with activists, we investigate the campaign’s strategy and show why it presented a particular challenge to the regime. Our conclusion underscores the state’s advantage in countering elite opposition innovation, but also highlights how effective opposition innovation can lead to significant changes in strategies to maintain regime stability.

(2015) Political Awareness and Self-Blame in the Explanatory Narratives of LGBT People Amid the Anti-LGBT Campaign in Russia, Sexuality and Culture

How do homo- and bisexual people explain the launch of a homophobia campaign that violates their basic human rights? Which narratives do they use to adjust to the hostile environment? On the basis of 77 in-depth problem-centered interviews with LGBT in Russia we explore the explanations they use to talk about their experience of a homophobia campaign. Respondents demonstrate their awareness of the political reasoning behind the campaign and explain it as a tool for electoral mobilization, the repression of pro-Western oriented opposition and as a part of biopolitical technologies adopted by the government to increase its control over people’s bodies and minds. Contrary to intuitive expectations, this political awareness does not protect the informants from self-blame, social escapism and moral suffering.

(2014) Trial by Fire: A Natural Disaster’s Impact on Support for the Authorities in Rural Russia, World Politics

This study aims to explore the foundations of political support under a non-democratic regime by investigating the impact of a natural disaster on attitudes toward the government. The research exploits the enormous wildfires that occurred in rural Russia during the summer of 2010 as a natural experiment. Since wildfire spreads due to the direction of the wind, the local distribution of fire is as if random: one village may burn while the neighboring village is left unscathed. We test the effects of this exogenous variation with a survey of almost 800 respondents in randomly selected villages, 34 of which were burned and 36 of which were unburned, in the four regions of Russia that were most severely affected. Contrary to the conventional scholarly wisdom that suggests that natural disasters cause people to blame politicians, our study finds that in the burned villages there is higher support for the government at all levels, namely for the United Russia Party, the village head, the governor, Prime Minister Putin, and President Medvedev. Most counterintuitively, the rise of support for authorities cannot be fully explained by the generous governmental aid provided to the villages that were damaged by the fires. We interpret the results within the framework of system justification theory, developing it by adding to individual characteristics the factors of the political regime and the demonstration effect.

(2014) Looking beyond the economy: Pussy Riot and the Kremlin's voting coalition, Post Soviet Affairs

The arrest of the protest punk band Pussy Riot (PR) in March 2012 and the subsequent prosecution of three band members pose a significant puzzle for political science. Although PR's performances presented a coherent alternative to the Putin regime's image of Russian reality, it was unlikely that the discordant music and crude lyrics of their art protest would inspire Russian society to take to the streets. Yet, the regime mounted a very visible prosecution against the three young women. We argue that the trial marked a shift in the Kremlin's strategy to shape state–society relations. In the face of declining economic conditions and social unrest, the PR trial encapsulated the Kremlin's renewed focus on three related mechanisms to insure social support: coercion, alliance building, and symbolic politics. The PR trial afforded the Kremlin an important opportunity to simultaneously redefine its loyal constituency, secure the Church–state relationship, and stigmatize the opposition.

(2013) A Well-Organized Play: Symbolic Politics and the Effect of the Pro-Putin Rallies., Problems of Post Communism

Pro-Putin rallies before the 2012 presidential elections became campaign venues in which the Kremlin used political symbols—woven into a narrative of nationalism and tradition—to define and activate core voters across the Russian Federation.

(2013) Economic and Social Policy Trade-Offs in the Russian Regions: Evidence from Four Case Studies, Europe Asia Studies

Through case studies of four Russian regions, we examine the trade-offs between social and economic policy at the regional level. All four regions studied seek to stimulate entrepreneurship while preserving or expanding social welfare coverage. Regions differ in development strategies, some placing greater emphasis on indigenous business development and others seeking to attract outside investment. Variation in levels of democracy are unrelated to policy choices. All four regional governments consult actively with local business associations while organised labour is weak. The absence of effective institutions to enforce commitments undermines regional capacity to make social policy an instrument for long-term development.