Early propaganda studies in authoritarian countries argue that state media works to legitimize the regime through indoctrination and persuasion. However, recent scholarship shows that citizens in authoritarian countries—in states like China, Syria, Russia, and Kazakhstan—can be unconvinced by state propaganda. How, then, does the way in which citizens experience unconvincing propaganda shape their political beliefs? How might unpersuasive propaganda contribute to authoritarian stability? Given the lack of alternative theories of propaganda, this article proposes a new hypothesis based on a reception study that interviewed 24 Russian citizens from Krasnoiarsk Krai after they watched items from Russian state television. The article theorizes that unconvincing state propaganda in Russia can reinforce a preexisting cynical attitude toward politics—an attitude that makes the collective action necessary for bottom-up reform hard to contemplate, let alone organize in an authoritarian context.

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