The Real Consequences of Symbolic Politics: Breaking the Soviet Past in Ukraine
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
53 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2020 Last revised: 1 Dec 2021
Date Written: November 22, 2021
Conflicts over symbolic issues are prominent in public affairs, but do they have wider political consequences, and if so, why? We study the electoral effects of Leninopad (``Lenin's free fall''), a sudden wave of demolitions of Soviet monuments in Ukraine. Difference-in-differences estimates show that the removals of the Soviet symbols mobilized supporters for parties with a relatively sympathetic view of Ukraine's Soviet past. We attribute this backlash effect to a signaling mechanism: the removals indicated the weakening power status of the Soviet legacy parties, which motivated their supporters to turn out in elections. This backlash dissipated once the Soviet symbols ceased being a contentious partisan issue due to the escalating secessionist war. Symbolic politics has real, non-symbolic consequences, but only when it maps onto partisan cleavages.
Keywords: symbolic politics, post-communism, Ukraine, memory
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