Project updates

We have not written anything in this blog since the 23rd of February 2022. That day we had a seminar by Elena Gorbacheva, made some plans for further research, and agreed to return to it in a few days. The next day Russia attacked Ukraine and the war started. We like millions of others across the world were shocked and terrified when the war started. We strongly condemn Russia’s invasion and our thoughts and sympathy go to all Ukrainians. We express our solidarity to all who oppose the war, in Russia and elsewhere.

For the past 50 days, most of our thoughts were directed toward the war and its victims. Yet, we tried to continue working and fulfill our project obligations. Apart from organising and taking part in various events like the forthcoming panel discussion on how to deal with surveys from Russia, we managed to hold a seminar ‘Unintended consequences of corruption indices: an experimental approach’ by Philipp Chapkovski, which was postponed from the original date because Philipp fled to Armenia, like many other people from Russia who want to do nothing with the regime that attacks a sovereign state. The recording of the talk will be made available in the upcoming weeks.

Another news we have – we are very glad to welcome Amelie Tolvin, a Master student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, as a new trainee in our project. Amelie’s focus and interests lie in authoritarianism and protests in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. She is currently working on her graduate major research project, which examines the development of the 2020 protest movement in Belarus. Amelie started her traineeship on the 1st of April online and in May-June she will come to Helsinki to work with us. Soon you will hear and see more from her.

In the meantime, we are working on new articles and posts, events and papers. The next seminar we have planned will be held on the 11th of May. Iuliia Krivonosova, Doctoral researcher at Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia, and at the Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management, University of Bern, Switzerland will give a talk ‘Internet voting in Russia: Democratizing Power of Internet Voting Revised?’. We hope to see you there.

We wish everyone stays safe these days. Peace to Ukraine!

Electoral consequences of environmental protest: The case of Shiyes

Today our Doctoral researcher Elena Gorbacheva presented her ongoing research ‘Electoral consequences of environmental protest: The case of Shiyes’ at ElMaRB seminar. Anna Zhelnina, Postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies (Urbaria), acted as a discussant.

The Shiyes protest campaign, which lasted for about 2 years since summer 2018, became one of the most prominent and well-known environmental protests in Russia during the last decade. The protests resulted in success – the landfill project for Moscow waste in Arkhangelsk oblast’ was cancelled and the head of the region, who supported the construction, resigned. But are there any other consequences of the two-year contention?

Elena Gorbacheva examined the political consequences of environmental protests in Russia by studying environmental protests in the Arkhangelsk region against the Shiyes landfill and how they affected the political support of incumbents at the elections of different levels in the region – gubernatorial elections in 2020 and State Duma elections in 2021. Based on the unique protest database for the Shiyes campaign, Elena found that there is a positive correlation between opposition candidates’ results and number of protests and a negative one between United Russia results and number of protests. The effect on turnout is modest, however, the turnout in 2020-2021 in Arkhangelsk was higher than during the previous electoral cycle despite the pandemic. What are the mechanisms behind it? Elena will explore this in her further research.

Spring seminar programme

The spring semester has just started but is already looking promising. Our EMaRB project is going to continue to work on the dataset, but in addition to that we will keep up with our tradition of organising seminars, where researchers present their work on elections, malpractice, and cyber-security in Russia and beyond. In this post, we are introducing our spring programme and we hope to see you at our events very soon!


Elena Gorbacheva, Doctoral researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute: ‘Electoral consequences of environmental protest: The case of Shiyes’, 23.02.2022, 14:00-15:30.

The Shiyes protest campaign, which lasted for about 2 years since summer 2018, became one of the most prominent and well-known environmental protests in Russia during the last decade. The protests resulted in success – the landfill project for Moscow waste in Arkhangelsk oblast’ was cancelled and the head of the region, who supported the construction, resigned. But are there any other consequences of the two-year contention?

In this presentation, I am examining the political consequences of environmental protests in Russia by studying environmental protests in the Arkhangelsk region against the Shiyes landfill and how they affected the political support of incumbents at the elections of different levels in the region.


Philipp Chapkovski: ‘Unintended consequences of corruption indices: an experimental approach’, 29.03.2022, 14:00-15:30.

Using the results of a large-scale (N=900) online experiment, this paper investigates how the information about regional corruption level may deleteriously affect interregional relations. Corruption indices are widely used as a measure of the quality of governance. But in addition, to be a valuable tool for investors and policymakers for making informed decisions, they may also result in statistical discrimination: people from a more ‘corrupt’ region may be perceived as less trustworthy or more inclined to dishonest behaviour.

In our experiment, we manipulated the number of information people have about three different Russian regions in two simple behavioural games (‘Cheating game’ and Trust game). In a Cheating game after the main stage where they report whether they observed a head or a tail on a flipped coin, they guessed how many participants in each of the three regions reported heads. In the baseline treatment, we provided them with a set of generic information about each region (such as population size and share of females), and in the main treatment, they were additionally informed about the degree of corruption in each region. They also had to make a transfer decision in the standard trust game for three potential recipients in each region. The presence of corruption information made people substantially overestimate the degree of dishonesty in more ‘corrupt’ regions. The behavioural trust towards a person from a region was also significantly lower if the region was marked as ‘corrupt’. The results demonstrate the potentially harmful unintended consequences of corruption indices that have to be taken into account by policymakers.


Iuliia Krivonosova, Doctoral researcher at Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia, and at the Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management, University of Bern, Switzerland: ‘Internet voting in Russia: Democratizing Power of Internet Voting Revised?’, 11.05.2022, 14:00-15:30.

Internet voting has pride of place among democratic innovations. It enfranchises new groups of voters, brings greater voter convenience and decreases costs of voting (Alvarez & Hall, 2003; Goodman & Stokes, 2016; Krimmer, 2012). So far, the studies of Internet voting implementation have been limited to democratic countries, which helps to reinforce the narrative of Internet voting as an innovation with democratic potential. At the same time, authoritarian regimes have a lot of potential to become norm entrepreneurs (Sunstein, 1996) generating new “alternative norms of appropriateness” (Jones, 2015, p. 26) which has already happened in the field of cyberspace (Kneuer & Harnisch, 2016) and e-participation (Åström et al., 2012). Therefore, for Internet voting to be an innovative solution, it deems important to study its development in a non-democratic environment. I consider one of such cases – Internet voting implementation in the 2019 Local elections in Moscow, Russia – in order to answer the research question “How is Internet voting implemented in a non-democratic environment?”

A new cross-regional dataset on media and electoral malpractice is released!

We are delighted to present one of the major contributions of our project – cross-regional data on electoral malpractice in Russia at the State Duma and Presidential elections 2007-2021. The data covers socioeconomic characteristics of Russian regions, as well as variables on TV and Internet coverage in each subject of the Russian Federation. The dataset contributes with the new variables on electoral coverage during both Presidential and State Duma electoral campaigns which capture the number of messages on elections in Russian regional media sources and the number of messages on electoral fraud. The dataset also encompasses electoral outcomes for political parties as well as basic socio-economic variables. Data covers four electoral cycles for the State Duma elections (2007, 2011, 2016, 2021) and three cycles for presidential elections (2008, 2012, 2018). More detailed variables on media coverage are to be added in the coming months. In this post, we visualize basic descriptive statistics on reporting electoral irregularities, their distribution across federal elections and regions as well as correlations with the main electoral variables: turnout, voting, and economic development. This post is written by Margarita Zavadskaya, Valeria Caras, and Elena Gorbacheva

Reporting fraud across federal elections: highest numbers in 2012

Most of the studies on how fraud is connected with political behaviour focus on election day or ex post violations, while we also include ex ante violations, i.e. malpractice that occurs on the eve of federal elections. Fraud rarely occurs spontaneously under autocracies and usually, implementation of fraud requires certain preparations in terms of amending the legal framework, excluding and suppressing opposition candidates and parties well before the election day. Since the direct measure of violations is even more challenging compared to detecting fraud on election day, we rely on media data that contain any mention of electoral malpractice during the election campaign. Our data allow one to take a first glance at the joint distributions and draw preliminary conclusions.

Continue reading “A new cross-regional dataset on media and electoral malpractice is released!”

State Duma Elections 2021: Results and Political Consequences

Today Margarita Zavadskaya took part in the research seminar organised by HSE University in St. Petersburg “State Duma Elections 2021: Results and Political Consequences”. At the seminar, Margarita will present her and Alexandra Rumyantseva’s paper ‘The party of people’s mistrust: foundations of the electoral success of the communists in 2021.

After the 2021 State Duma elections, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) re-emerged as a new political force with new people and creative local electoral campaigns within Russian political landscape. How and why the communists, who have been viewed as a system and rather passive opposition by most of analists and electorate, managed to successfuly accumulate political dissatisfaction of the voters during the September 2021 State Duma elections? We state that mobilisation against the pension reform in 2018 turned out to be the data on protests in 381 towns of Russia with population larger than 20.000 people, which took place during summer-autumn 2018, combined with the electoral data on State Duma elections 2016 and 2021.
The paper continues the presentation Margarita Zavadskaya and Alexandra Rumyantseva gave in October in Helsinki during the ElMaRB seminar. You can watch its recording on our blog.

Governing Authoritarian Elections: The Case of Russia

The new year has started and we continue to publish the recordings of keynote lectures given at our International Workshop. Today we are happy to share the excellent talk that Vladimir Gel’man, Professor of Russian Politics at Aleksanteri Institute and Professor at the European University at St.Petersburg, gave on the 26th of October. In the lecture titled ‘Governing Authoritarian Elections: The Case of Russia’, Professor Gel’man talked about

The mechanisms of electoral governance under authoritarianism aimed at preservation of political monopoly under the guise of multi-party and multi-candidate contest. However, the very framework of legal regulations and their implementation relied upon numerous political and institutional devices, carefully chosen and arranged on the basis of “menu of manipulations”, typical for some electoral authoritarian regimes. Under such conditions, regimes employs the combination of high barriers, vague norms, biased enforcement of rules, and top-down mechanisms of control. Russia demonstrated the evolution of mechanisms of electoral governance towards near-elimination of very possibilities for unwanted electoral results. Still, these mechanisms are imperfect, as they perform at the expense of legitimacy of elections and not always prevents undesired outcomes. This is why authoritarian elections is a risky game, vulnerable to disequilibrium, observed in the wake of post-election protests in 2011-2012. Based on this perspective, I will discuss the experience of elections in Russia since the Soviet collapse until the State Duma elections of 2021.


Political support during the pandemic: success of the communists and COVID-scepticism

On the 10th-11th of December, Sakharov’s Centre, Levada, and Memorial organised the 4th conference “Russian realities: state, socium, civil society”. Margarita Zavadskaya gave a talk “Political support during the pandemic: the success of the communists and COVID-scepticism”. The main arguments of her presentation were summarised by Boris Grozovsky and published online:

Political support for the regime changed under the influence of both long-term and short-term factors. The political consequences of the pandemic are close to none, but there is a number of nuances. “The success of the communists” in 2021 is “success” only under the conditions of the current regime; if it were softer, no one would be surprised. And this is connected to covid skepticism.
The pandemic as an external shock affects the level of political support. People who have been themselves ill (or their loved ones) do not experience a decline in support of the government and the health care system, of the system of institutions as a whole. That is, the pandemic did not affect the decline in confidence in the enlarged government. The pandemic has left no political traces. However, it interacts with other factors. This is not a shock localized in time, like a natural disaster, it is extended in time and less intense. This reduces the effect of shock and suddenness.
Covid is not visible. We do not always observe the consequences directly, plus there is an effect of fatigue from this agenda. In democracies, political support grows in a situation like this (the “rally around the flag” effect), but this is a short-term effect. The second effect is hyper-responsibility: if there is an increased number of deaths, this affects the decrease in support for the authorities. This phenomenon is less common.
What is happening in Russia? It seems like nothing. In fact, there are some effects:
1) The pandemic affects the economic situation – the damage is quite large. If the economy is declining and government support is low, citizens should, in theory, “punish” the government with a decrease in support. The loss of job or a decrease in income affected the decrease in support, but also very slightly (the effect was weak or insignificant). One of the most pressing issues is inflation. Economic problems came to the fore not in 2020, but in 2021 (the pandemic worries people less now).
2) Feelings of anxiety, anxiousness, expressed through the questions like how well the government is coping with the crisis, whether people fear getting ill, have become a top predictor of support. The more anxious people feel, the higher their support for the government (hopelessness and anxiety induce people to look for an “anchor” in the form of state institutions).
3) But the winner among the factors influencing political support was covid skepticism (the higher it is, the lower the support of the authorities). However, it is not clear what is the cause and what is the effect (were people skeptical of the government even before the pandemic or did the pandemic cause a decrease in support). The share of covid skeptics was about 38% in 2020, now – about 30% (these people think covid is fiction). Here Russia, along with Chile, is the leader. Did we dream of such opposition?
Support for the communists increased despite the clear-up of the political field. Does this mean that the communists have returned from political oblivion? In the week before the elections, the share of negative references to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation on TV channels increased sharply. The Kremlin was very much afraid of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation as a political force capable of uniting the electorate against the ruling party. This is an amazing result of both this party and the entire civil society. The communists became the beneficiaries of Navalny’s removal from the political field, the growing popularity of Smart Voting, and the growing distrust of the state presented also in the form of covid skepticism. The Communist Party turned out to be a “dust collector” of the protest vote.
The state is mistrusted so much that people do not trust all its institutions and its vaccine. This continues to strengthen the communists. Do these processes have the potential for increasing politicization? It is unlikely: the groups are scattered, they have little in common, they have poor communication channels.

The full version of Margarita Zavadskaya’s talk in Russian can be watched here:

The party of people’s mistrust: components of the CPRF success

Liberal Mission Foundation published a new report on the situation in Russia after the 2021 Duma election – “New Reality: Kremlin and Golem. What do the election results tell about the socio-political situation in Russia.”

Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the authors of the report and wrote the part titled “The Party of People’s Mistrust: Components of the CPRF Success”. The text is based on the media monitoring we have conducted during summer 2021.

Under the conditions of complete “clean-up” of the political sphere, CPRF became the main beneficiary of the Smart Voting. Threat from the Communists, supported by the Smart Voting, affected the media campaign strategy of the federal tv-channels: if the start of it was quite peaceful, the last week before the elections the political coverage was mostly concentrated on discrediting the CPRF, 70% of whose mentions were negative. The Communists success hardly speaks of the “leftening” of the electorate, more likely the CPRF became a “focal point” for the protest regardless of the ideological positions of the protesters or even the Smart Voting recommendations. Consolidation of the “electorate of mistrust” atound the CPRF was promoted by both the weakening of LDPR’s oppositional rhetorics and the Communists’ position regarding the mandatory vaccination. All in all, the current social situation and Kremlin’s harsh strategies deprive the elections from their standard functioning – they are not a mechanism of cooptation of the moderate opposition. The cleavage between the political composition of State Duma and reality will be maintaining the tension and irritation. Scared of repressions and annoyed citizens will enter political nibernation until the new window of political opportunities emerges.

Her text can be read online in Russian.

The Authoritarian Turnout Gap: How Civic Duty Helps Autocrats Win Elections

We continue to publish the recordings of the keynote lectures given at our  International workshop Electoral Integrity and Malpractice in Russia and Beyond: New Challenges and Responses. Today we are glad to share with you the brilliant talk by Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Ora John Reuter. His research interests include comparative political institutions, authoritarianism, elections, democratisation, comparative political economy, and Russian politics. Ora John Reuter is the author of the book the Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia and the recent papers on Clientelist Appeals and Voter Turnout in Russia and Venezuela; Protest Coordination in Authoritarian Regimes. At the workshop, Ora John Reuter gave a presentation “The Authoritarian Turnout Gap:  How Civic Duty Helps Autocrats Win Elections”

In electoral autocracies, regime supporters tend to vote at higher rates than regime opponents.  In the 2016 State Duma elections in Russia, the turnout rate among United Russia supporters was 12 percentage points higher than the turnout rate among opposition party supporters.  This gap gives the regime a built-in electoral advantage.   This paper suggests that the root of this gap lies in differing orientations toward civic duty among regime and opposition supporters.  Using original survey data from Russia, I present evidence that most voters feel an ethical obligation—a civic duty—to vote. I suggest that the duty to vote under autocracy is rooted not in norms of democratic participation, but rather in reverence for the state. Because autocratic regimes often penetrate and politicize the state, I argue that opposition voters are less likely to revere the state and less likely than regime supporters to believe that voting is a civic duty. Using a previously validated measure of the duty to vote, I find evidence in Russia consistent with these arguments. The theory and findings suggest that authoritarian incumbents have an inherent mobilizational advantage: their supporters feel a duty to vote, but regime opponents do not. This may help explain why opposition parties under autocracy find it hard to turn out their supporters.

Political support and the pandemic in Russia: a year and a half later

On Riddle, you can read the new text by Margarita Zavadskaya “Political support and the pandemic in Russia: a year and a half later”, in which she discusses how the political attitudes of Russians have changed during the 1,5 years of the pandemic. She concludes that

 there are no signs of an erosion of political trust, although the average level of confidence in institutions remains low. Despite United Russia’s dip in popularity, the general perception of executive power remains stable. In general, the narrowing down of the field of public politics, the crackdown on the independent media and the initiation of a number of politically motivated criminal cases during the pandemic (e.g. cases regarding violations of public health regulations) haven’t affected citizens’ perceptions thus far. Returning to the pre-pandemic reality and economic well-being appear to be priorities for the majority of Russian citizens.

This insightful paper can be read in English or in Russian online.