Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin denied alleged Russian interference in the French presidential election. But evidence shows Russian state media used dubious opinion poll data in the run up to the French election to promote Francois Fillon, at a time when mainstream polls showed him trailing in third place. Shortly before the French election, France’s Polling Commission warned that a poll published by Sputnik, showing Francois Fillon in front, did not reflect public opinion and did not qualify as a “poll” under French law. The research was conducted for Sputnik by Brand Analytics, which previously had a joint project with the Russian state-owned WCIOM polling centre. WCIOM’s main client is Kremlin, which has veto of what they publish. Brand Analytics is a product owned by the Russian company PalitrumLab, which is in turn majority-owned by the IT infrastructure company I-Teco. This company’s clients include the FSB, Russia’s Ministry of Interior, and its Ministry of Defence.
In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that prior to last year’s elections in Bulgaria, the opposition Socialist Party supposedly received a secret strategy document delivered by ex-SVR information department head Leonid Reshetnikov. Reshetnikov was then head of the Kremlin-linked Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and reportedly have passed on a road map to electoral victory, which suggested using fake news and pushing exaggerated polling data.
There is evidence that exploiting polling data for propaganda has become a tactic of the Russian state media, with one example seen in its use of polls on the issue of Crimea.