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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Increasing evidence shows that foreign actors, particularly Russia, are looking to exploit similar themes that were used in 2016 and in 2018 to divide the country ahead of this years' election.

Why it matters: There's now a visible pattern emerging across election cycles of which issues our country is most vulnerable to in terms of manipulation.

  • New data from the Alliance for Securing Democracy shows that in recent mentions of Joe Biden in tweets by Russian state media accounts, there's a clear narrative that Biden is a pro-cop, establishment centrist who can't be trusted by progressives.
Data: Alliance for Securing Democracy Chart: Axios Visuals
  • "It's something we saw clearly in 2016," says Bret Schafer, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow, Alliance for Securing Democracy. "Russians were trying to peel off Bernie supporters from Clinton by targeting black voters."

Dividing the Democrats: Starting with the Iowa caucus debacle, there's been a huge push within Russian messaging machine to divide the Democrats between centrists and progressives.

  • The efforts became visible in February when Schafer's team saw evidence of Russian accounts blaming the DNC and establishment Democrats for the botched Iowa caucus.
  • Intelligence officials warned last month that Russia is looking to "denigrate" Joe Biden's campaign, similar to how it attacked Hillary Clinton's.

Race and Black Lives Matter: Tweets from Russian accounts have focused on the violence in Kenosha Wisconsin as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Disrupting confidence in the voting system: A new intelligence bulletin from Department of Homeland Security warns that Russia "is attempting to sow doubt about the integrity of the 2020 elections by amplifying false claims related to mail-in voting resulting in widespread fraud," according to documents obtained by CNN.

  • "The mail-in voting angle is the key one," says Schafer. "That has come from the president so it's a tough thing for them to shut down as unreasonable."
  • Suggestions of "rigged elections" have increased in recent months as they pertain to mail-in voting throughout the pandemic, but have long been used to cast doubt in the electoral system by President Trump and his allies online.

Stoking fears around health: Russia has been actively spreading misinformation about the coronavirus throughout the West, according to digital forensics experts and government officials.

  • There's a history of this: The Senate Intel Report on 2016 election meddling notes the Russian Internet Research Agency spread a hoax concerning poisoned turkeys during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2014.

The big picture: In early August, a report from the State Department accused Russia of using disinformation campaigns to manipulate the U.S. election.

  • While the report didn't note specific efforts being made by the Russians, it warned that disinformation campaigns were underway, and alluded to ways that efforts in 2016 may be used to stoke fears ahead again of 2020.

The bottom line: Research and data suggests that the Russians and other groups are actively trying to undermine the U.S. elections by sowing fear and discord around issues that have long-been considered contentious in the U.S.

Go deeper

Georgia's early voting starts with heavy turnout

Voters wait in line to vote at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta on the first day of in-person early voting for the Georgia Senate runoff election. Photo: Jason Armond/Getty Images

Georgia's on an early path to a huge turnout in the two runoffs to decide control of the U.S. Senate, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State's Office crunched by Axios.

By the numbers: Voters cast 482,000 ballots in roughly the first day and a half of early voting this week. That’s equivalent to one-third of the total in the last statewide general election runoff, held in 2018, and about one-fourth of the total ballots in the last Senate runoff, held in 2008.

House Armed Services is paying more attention to cybersecurity — after big hack

Rep. Adam Smith. Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith has outlined a plan for his body to improve its oversight of cybersecurity, although experts say suspected Russian cyberattacks show the focus is late in coming.

Why it matters: The alleged Russian penetration of the Pentagon and Treasury Commerce, State, Homeland Security and other departments shows the sweep of digital warfare and the need for an all-hands, all-of-government response.

Dems' immigration plan hits major roadblock

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Sunday that Democrats cannot include pathways to citizenship in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, per a copy of the ruling obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: It's a blow to Democrats who hoped to provide pathways for millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Using reconciliations would have allowed them to pass politically contentious immigration changes with only 50 votes, as opposed to the usual 60 required.