After unleashing widespread cyberattacks and disinformation warfare on the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election, Russia’s trolls and hackers mostly appeared to have sat on the sidelines during the campaign ahead of last week’s midterm elections. No one is sure why. Federal agencies, state election officials and social-media companies spent the past two years working to bulletproof voting systems and better address online disinformation in preparation for Election Day. Voting largely came and went without major incident, according to U.S. officials and cybersecurity companies looking for evidence of Russian interference. Several factors may have reduced Moscow’s impact. Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the diffuse nature of congressional and state races makes them a harder target than a single presidential election.
Others, including several Trump administration officials, said efforts to deter foreign hackers and send a message to Russia that election meddling wouldn’t be tolerated may have paid off.
Still a third possibility, experts say: Russian President Vladimir Putin, figuring he had successfully inflamed political divides and undermined confidence in American democracy, may have been content to kick back and watch others do the work for him. Political discourse within the U.S. has become increasingly polarized and filled with disinformation, much of it created by partisans, Mr. Watts said.