COVID-19 Impact on Electoral Support Worldwide: An Overview

Finnish municipal elections were scheduled for the 18th of April, but due to the exacerbating pandemic, the government decided to postpone them until the 13th of June. This decision received harsh criticism from opposition parties, especially from the right-wing populist party The True Finns (Perussuomalaiset), who claimed that it endangered Finnish democracy (Suomen Uutiset). 

In this post, Valeria Caras, ElMaRB project intern and Master student of the European and Nordic Studies programme at the University of Helsinki, analyzes the effect that the pandemic and political regime have on the electoral schedule and electoral outcomes. Valeria endeavors to investigate who benefits from the emergency or, vice versa, loses support? Previously we overviewed the electioneering in the times of the pandemic from February to July 2020. In all eight elections in that period, ruling parties and groups ensured survival in power and even gained additional support. This phenomenon is well known as ‘rallying around the flag’ when citizens tend to temporarily unite in the face of a common threat. Analyzing national elections from July 2020 till April 2021, we still observe the evidence of the ‘rallying effect’. In most parliamentary and general elections, ruling parties won the elections (21 cases out of 27). From these 21 victories in seven cases, incumbents lost a small proportion of votes. In other cases, elections were won by the opposition and by the newly created parties. The election postponement trend was mainly present in March-June 2020 when the share of the re-scheduled campaigns exceeded hold elections (IDEA). However, since the autumn electoral period, especially from October 2020, elections are less rescheduled, and campaigns run on time despite various stringency levels across countries.

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Blaming the government in the times of pandemic: Effects of unemployment in the EU

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the primary function of any government to produce corresponding policies. Despite managing day-to-day administration, executives now should handle the Corona crisis, lockdowns, border closure, and vaccination campaigns. The pandemic context created a window of opportunity for some national executives to exercise extra power and, in certain cases, violate democratic standards (Lührmann, Edgell, and Maerz 2020). Considering this trend, the question is how citizens hold governments accountable for the economic consequences of the current crisis?  Valeria Caras analyzes the relationships between governmental trust and economic indicators in the pandemic context in the previous post. In this text, a mediator in this causal mechanism is added. As such, the impact of unemployment on trust levels is determined by the clarity of governmental responsibility – an indicator measuring how much control the cabinets exercise. 

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How unemployment and perceptions of the economy affect political trust in times of the Corona crisis?

Declared in response to the Corona crisis states of emergencies had enforced the role of the executive, placing the national governments on the first line of pandemic management. Considering the unprecedented character of the situation, some governments have experienced the ‘rally around the flag’ phenomenon – the rise of support during an external crisis while others have been faced with ‘hyper accountability’ – a severe punishment by the population for an economic downturn and pandemic’s consequences. In the pandemic’s complexity where healthcare and economic crises are linked together, it is ambiguous what factors impact trust formation. In this post, Valeria Caras focuses on economic factors as financial perceptions and unemployment from the comparative perspective. Valeria is ElMaRB project intern and a master’s student of the European and Nordic Studies programme at the University of Helsinki.

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COVID-19 and Russians’ political sentiments

Yesterday Riddle published an article “COVID-19 and Russians’ political sentiments” written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Boris Sokolov (Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, HSE). Based on the ‘Values in Crisis’ survey, they have compiled original data on how the coronavirus pandemic is changing Russian society and its political moods. The results show little sign of any ‘rally round the flag’ effect.

To sum up, Russians have not ‘rallied round the flag’ in response to the epidemic, as predicted by political science theories. On the other hand, the economic situation has not yet had a very noticeable impact on political sentiments. Here, the situation can change if the recession caused by the coronavirus and authorities’ response is protracted. The subjective perception of what is happening has a stronger impact (albeit small in absolute numbers) on the attitude towards the government than direct experience of the disease or its economic consequences. Interestingly, pandemic-related concerns are conducive to a favourable rather than negative attitude to the authorities; perhaps the government is perceived as a source of some stability and social guarantees.

 

The most interesting result is the close link between the perception of COVID-19 as a hoax and distrust in the government and state institutions. This may indicate that the authorities are suffering the greatest reputational loss among the conservative section of society, where the share of supporters of various conspiracy theories is quite high.

The full version of the text is available in English and Russian online.

Political Consequences of the COVID-19 in Russia: Another Blame Game?

Yesterday Aleksanteri Institute organised a discussion panel at Tiedekulma on COVID-19 in Russia and its effects on politics, Central Asian migrants, and prisons. The event was streamed online and consisted of three presentations by postdoctoral researchers at the Aleksanteri Institute – Margarita Zavadskaya, Sherzod Eraliev (“Covid-19 pandemic on Central Asian labour migrants in Russia”), and Olga Zeveleva (” Prisons and punishment in Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic”) and was chaired by Mikhail Nakonechnyi, also a postdoctoral researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute. After the discussion, the participants answered the questions that were sent by the audience online.

ElMaRB project leader, Margarita Zavadskaya gave a talk titled “Political Consequences of the COVID-19 in Russia: Another Blame Game? “. The talk in many ways reflected what Margarita was exploring within the “Politics and Pandemics” special series that we started at the beginning of April in our blog. Margarita discussed how Russia is dealing with the pandemic, and what are the economic and political consequences of it.

Dr. Zavadskaya pointed out some interesting features of the political support dynamics in Russia. For instance, from social studies, we know that events like natural disasters, external threats usually provide rallying around leader effect. However, we do not observe it in Russia. Even state-sponsored pollsters report stable figures around 67% (i.e. no rise). According to the independent pollster Levada Center, political support for V. Putin reached its historical low of 59% in May. Moreover, before April, Levada registered a rise in support for regional governors.

Second, there is a rise of mass concerns with the economic situation, purchasing capacity, and employment prospects, especially among the vulnerable groups of the population, small business, and medical workers. The Russian economy has been experiencing problems before the pandemic – it was hit hard by the drop of oil prices on March 8th and earlier decrease in trade with China. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown aka ‘non-working days’ or even sometimes referred to as ‘holidays’ lead to an immediate rise in official unemployment, bankruptcies, and an overall slowdown of economic activities. As we know, people tend to “punish” their governments for a deteriorating economy and hold them accountable for the economic grievances. Thus, in Russia, we can observe two warring tendencies – the expected rallying effect and blaming the authorities for the declining economy.

What can be expected from all this? The experts generally agree that the implemented by the government supportive measures fell short of the Russians’ expectations. The official statistics number may show that the support of the government and the president is still relatively high, but actually, even the so-called pro-Putin loyal majority is unsatisfied with the current situation and the social contract has eroded. At the same time, there are no channels for Russians to express their discontent – while people in electoral democracies can just throw the rascals out with voting, Russian elections do not allow voters to punish the executive for the ‘bad governance’. Protest – another form of expressing political discontent – also seems costly under repressive regimes due to various restrictions on the public gatherings (especially during the pandemic), even solitary pickets. Besides that, people don’t tend to protest when the economic situation is hard. Therefore, all the grievances will be just accumulating for a while.

To finalise, the COVID-19 helped the regime to experiment with a new toolkit of manipulations and repressive measures – new restrictions on gatherings, new forms of voting. There are grounds to believe that the vote on constitutional amendments is better to take place as soon as possible because political support is not expected to remain high. On the other hand, this time the regime attacked its loyal voters. Loyal majority kept voting for the regime, but when the state was most needed, it backed down from its ‘duties’. Ironically, excessive regulatory intervention of the state in business and non-commercial sectors turned out to be a laisser-faire strategy when it was most needed. Thus, Russia will remain about the same, but poorer and more repressive.

The full recording of the panel discussion is available below:

Neither Referendum, nor Vote: How COVID-19 Helps V. Putin to Maintain Political Power

On Monday, 1st of June, President Putin signed the executive order on setting the date for the nationwide vote on amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The vote was originally scheduled for the 22nd of April, but it was postponed until further notice in late March due to the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. According to the executive order, the nationwide vote will take place on the 1st of July. The vote will start after the postponed to 24th of June Victory Parade and will end before the start of first school graduation exams, which were also postponed. All Russian regional legislatures and the Federal Assembly have already approved the amendments in March. After that, on 14th of March, Putin signed a bill according to which the amendments will be effective after Russian population approves them through the national vote. Amendments will be passed if more than half of the voters support them, and there is no requirement for a voter turnout percentage for voting to be eligible. This week, in our ninth post of the “Politics and Pandemics” special series, Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva comment on the national vote and how the ongoing pandemic will and already is affecting it.

Author: Sergey Yolkin

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Concentrating Benefits and Delegating Costs: How the president undermines the governors’ chance to raise their own political credentials while handling the pandemic

This post, written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva, is the seventh in the special series “Politics&Pandemics”.

Reading time: 12 minutes

Three days ago, on May 11th, during his latest address to the nation, Vladimir Putin stated that from the 12th of May the regime of non-working days is over, and each region should proceed to gradually lift off restrictions according to their own schedule. Does this imply that the pandemic has reached the long-awaited plateau and Russian authorities handle the corona crisis successfully? This does not seem to be the case: since the beginning of May, there have been more than 10.000 new cases of coronavirus infections recorded daily in Russia. At the moment, Russia has the second highest toll of the number of COVID-patients in the world after the US. Not to mention the growing number of complaints from the business, doctors, and impoverished citizens locked in their homes.

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The Privatization of Rosneft: An Unintended Consequence of the Coronavirus Pandemic and the 2020 Oil Crisis

Some day in the future, economic historians will likely consider the dramatic decline of international oil prices, which occurred in March 2020, as a turning point in the development of the global petroleum industry. This collapse puts the end to the era of expansive oil, which began after the Iraq war of 2003. That era is over now as the global economy seems to return to a period of low oil prices, similar to the one at the end of the 20th century after 1986.

There are a lot of explanations for the collapse of oil prices in the business and academic literature. Some experts think that the coronavirus pandemic undermines the global demand for petroleum, while other economists suppose that the dissolution of the coalition of OPEC countries and Russia in March 2020 was responsible for the destruction of the previous oil price equilibrium at the international oil market. However, the question of why this collapse of the oil price equilibrium happened is no longer relevant. The questions scholars should focus on now are how the decrease in oil prices will impact the economies of oil-exporting countries in the world after the pandemic? What reaction to this crisis can we expect from the governments of oil-producing countries? Finally, what will happen to the Russian economy?

The oil crisis and the escalating oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia of 2020 might open intellectual debate on what is the best way of the organization of the petroleum industry in the conditions of low oil prices. What model of petroleum ownership is optimal for the economy in the new age of cheap oil prices? What will the reaction of the state to this problem be? Could we expect the mass privatizations of state-owned oil companies around the world? This essay is an attempt at addressing the problem. This is the sixth blog post of the Politics & Pandemics special series, written by invited researchers Aleksei Pobedonostsev* and Nadezhda Stepanova+.

*Aleksei Pobedonostsev, Ph.D. candidate in political and social sciences (European University Institute in Florence), Aleksanteri Institute visiting fellow, Aleksei.Pobedonostsev@EUI.eu

+Nadezhda Stepanova, Ph.D. in economics, Aleksanteri Institute, Invited Researcher nadezhda.stepanova@helsinki.fi

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Does trust help fight the COVID-19? A brief overview of the pandemic situation in former Soviet and communist societies

By now, the COVID-19 has spread to every corner of the world, and only a handful of dictatorships and tiny island countries have not yet reported on confirmed infections. At the same time, the social and political dimensions of the crisis have come more and more apparent. There have been concerns, for example, about how authoritarian political leaders might use the crisis as an excuse to consolidate their power, discussion about whether authoritarian or democratic countries fare better in handling the pandemics, and how the situation has affected elections coinciding with the crisis. In this post, Eemil Mitikka is going to consider how the COVID-19 crisis relates to one of the key concepts in social sciences, which is trust. This is the fifth post of our “Politics & Pandemics” special series.

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