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GREAT MOMENTS IN COUNTING HISTORY – TURNOUT FOR VLADIMIR PUTIN, TURNIN FOR BORIS YELTSIN, TURNDOWN FOR THE RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Next to the certainty that President Vladimir Putin will win re-election on March 18, there is a doubt which no Russian pollster, political sociologist or official of the Central Election Commission dares to discuss on the record. That is the evidence from polling surveys of how many voters will cast ballots on the day – the turnout percentage.

The Kremlin and the president’s campaign boosters have announced a target of 70/70; that is 70% turnout, 70% vote for Putin.

The available evidence indicates that intention to vote, the projected turnout, has been sinking into the 50th  percentile. This level is so low, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has been ordered to do everything possible to raise turnout. Everything possible may include the method of President Boris Yeltsin’s administration; that’s the inclusion of voters who are dead but whose names remain on the registers. Named after the Nikolai Gogol story [2],   the Dead Soul vote is estimated by experts, who don’t wish to be named,  at between 3% and 7%; up to 10% in some regions.  

In December the independent Levada Center of Moscow measured intention to vote at 58%; since then the administrative and political pressure on Levada has intensified, and it has announced it will not publish any polls on the presidential election until after March 18. The pressure is so severe, Levada analysts will also not respond to questions about past poll releases identifying how voter intention differs from region to region, by age group, by education, and by social class.

This sociology is currently a state secret. For that story, and for details of the difference between voter approval of Putin and intention to vote for him, read this [3]

THE TOP RUSSIAN POLITICAL POLLSTERS

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From left to right: Levada Center head, Lev Gudkov; VTsIOM head, Valery Fyodorov;  and Dmitry Badovsky, head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Researches (IESPR).  The Levada Center polls can be read at the center website: http://www.levada.ru/en/ [5]  VTsIOM’s English language website is currently blocked by virus warnings. Its Russian website is https://wciom.ru/ [6]

Russian pollsters agree that voters are afraid of giving genuine information to these questions. Accordingly, they say voter intention surveys over-estimate real turnout because those sampled in polls prefer to give answers they believe to be socially acceptable or safe. The pollsters also concur that intention to vote may rise as election day draws closer, depending on the prevailing media coverage, and the pressures voters experience at workplaces, pension offices and other local government agencies or the militia.

The only official pollster issuing voter intention results at present is the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), whose head is Valery Fyodorov. There have been four releases of VTsIOM polls since December, the most recent dated last week. These claim to show the Putin election campaign is already well ahead of its targets. Intention to vote, committed and likely, has gone from 81% to 81%, with a dip into the 76th-78th percentiles during the holidays. Political analysts contacted for their assessment of these numbers refuse to reply.

RUSSIAN VOTER TURNOUT AS REPORTED BY VTsIOM, DECEMBER 20-JANUARY 15

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KEY: Row-1 = definite intention to vote; row-2 = likely to vote; row-3 = undecided; row-4 = unlikely to vote; row-5 = definite intention not to vote; row-6 = difficult to answer. Source: https://wciom.ru/news/ratings/vybory_2018/ [8]

Fyodorov’s center has also reported voter intention to vote for Putin at 76.8% on December 20; 71% on December 27; 73.8% on January 10; and 73.2% on January 15.

Fyodorov is reported as telling the press he expects turnout on March 18 to be between 60% and 70%.  He has acknowledged that turnout for the last State Duma election in September 2016 was just 47.9%; this is the lowest level recorded. “This time will be different. The CEC [Central Election Commission] will work like mad and get the word out about the election,” Fyodorov told [9]a Moscow newspaper. 

Fyodorov was asked this week to say what age, sex, region, and social class groups show up in his surveys of voter intention and voter preference as differing most from the national norms or trends which he is summarizing in his poll publications.  He refused to answer.

The Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Researches (ISEPR) is a relatively new think-tank. Based in Moscow, it was created with government patronage of several kinds, identified here [10]. It focuses more on political parties than on election races, and has published no recent polls on turnout or preference in the presidential ballot. Director Dmitry Badovsky has told a Moscow newspaper he is sceptical of reported polling of turnout. “We  need more information to analyze possible answers;  their dynamics from survey to survey;  the values for the different electoral groups [age, sex, geography, education].” He estimates real turnout intention at the moment to be less than 50%, but expects this to change next month. By election day in March, Badovsky is forecasting turnout of between 57% and 60%.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the history of Russian voter turnout reflects the disgruntlement of voters with Yeltsin, and the subsequent rise of support for Putin.

RUSSIAN VOTER TURNOUT AND THE WINNING VOTE FOR PRESIDENT – 1993-2012

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KEY: Red = turnout; blue = winning vote.

The lowest turnout on record for a presidential vote was 54.4% in December 1993. That was not an election ballot; Yeltsin’s first election as Russian president had taken place in mid-1991, before the Soviet Union ended. Formally, Yeltsin did not face re-election until 1996, but the vote on his proposed constitution was a vote on his presidency. 

It followed Yeltsin’s order to the army to destroy the parliamentary opposition in the White House, when more than 180 people were killed and several hundred wounded. The Constitutional Court was closed, and a new constitution drafted by Yeltsin’s staff. This was submitted to a national vote on December 12, 1993. The turnout required to legally validate the constitution was 50%; the officially recorded turnout was 54.4%. The evidence that this was a fraud was widespread at the time. It was corroborated by Dmitry Rogozin, then a leader of the opposition to Yeltsin, now a deputy prime minister. Rogozin also estimated that fabrication of votes by Yeltsin in the presidential election of 1996, in which he scored 54.4% in the second round, was up to 10%.

A poll of Russian voters last month, following the anniversary of the Yeltsin Constitution, found [12]that 54% of those surveyed believe the Russian authorities do not act constitutionally.