Linkages between Experiencing COVID-19 and Levels of Political Support in Russia

PONARS Eurasia published a policy memo “Linkages between Experiencing COVID-19 and Levels of Political Support in Russia”, written by Margarita Zavadkaya and Boris Sokolov (Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg).

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left noticeable traces in everyday life of Russian society. Eighty percent of Russians had to alter their lifestyles due to the virus, with half reporting that their incomes shrank, and this share keeps growing. Has the pandemic also affected how Russian citizens feel about their government? To explore how the pandemic has affected political support in Russia, we analyzed data from a representative online panel survey, “Values in Crisis,” carried out by the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics (LCSR, HSE).

We looked at four indicators of support: confidence in (1) the Russian government, (2) the health sector, and (3) the country’s institutions as a whole, as well as respondents’ opinions on (4) how well the government is handling the coronavirus crisis. We found that actual encounters with COVID-19 and the public healthcare system are negatively, although weakly, associated with all four indicators. We also found that the fear of getting sick moderately positively correlates with assessments of the government’s response to the crisis. Reported negative economic impacts do not seem to affect political trust and support. Strikingly, the most distrusting group of respondents are the so-called “COVID-19-dissidents,” who consistently scored low on all measures due to their refusal to take COVID-19 seriously.

This fascinating research can be read online.

Six myths about elections and protests in autocracies

Margarita Zavadskaya wrote an article for Riddle titled “Six myths about elections and protests in autocracies”. In the piece, which continues the discussion organised by All+Russia Civil Forum in October, Margarita discusses the mechanisms that lead to mobilisation after elections and ponders whether the upcoming 2021 election to the Russian Duma faces an increased risk of post-election protests. She achieves that by dismantling the popular myths about the elections in autocracies and the protests that might follow. The conclusion that Zavadskaya reaches is an open one:

The 2021 Duma elections will not be held in particularly comfortable conditions for United Russia. The situation is complicated by the economic consequences of the pandemic and the overall decline in support for the institutions of power. According to representative online surveys, in the summer of 2020 the respondents were extremely sensitive to economic fluctuations and expressed a high degree of concern (while being slightly less concerned about the pandemic). In the eyes of voters, the Duma is the most disliked body of federal power, which is why it will be difficult for United Russia to maintain its current number of mandates. However, no serious opponents will be allowed to participate in the elections anyway. And the probability of protests will largely depend on the strategies employed by the opposition and the degree of its organisation.

The full version of the text can be found on Riddle in both English and Russian.

The ‘Smart Vote’ Effect Outside Moscow and St. Petersburg: An Analysis of Russian Subnational Elections of September 2020

Alexei Navalny’s ‘smart vote’ initiative appeared effective in the course of Moscow and St. Petersburg elections last year. Russian subnational elections of September 2020 showed that, against common expectations, the ‘smart vote’ support boosted candidates’ electoral results outside the biggest cities as well. At the same time, the ‘smart vote’ pro-opposition effects are mitigated by the regime’s ability to rely on multi-day voting which exacerbates the spread of electoral malpractice. Mikhail Turchenko, associate professor of Political Science at the European University at St. Petersburg provides empirical evidence confirming these findings.

votesmart.appspot.com/

Continue reading “The ‘Smart Vote’ Effect Outside Moscow and St. Petersburg: An Analysis of Russian Subnational Elections of September 2020”

Election observation of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, part 2

This is the second part of the paper “Election observation of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus: main actors, electoral manipulations, and lessons for the future” by Dr. Alla Leukavets, a policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies in Minsk. The first part can be read in our blog.

Continue reading “Election observation of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, part 2”

Election observation of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus: main actors, electoral manipulations, and lessons for the future.

We return with our regular posts about elections, electoral malpractice, and cyber-security, and this Summer and Autumn have been full of notable events we aim to uncover. Elections and protests in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, single voting day in Russia – we will discuss all these and other cases in the following weeks.

Today we invited Dr. Alla Leukavets, who is a policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies in Minsk, to write about the conduct of the presidential elections in Belarus on the 9th of August 2020. Alla Leukavets holds a PhD in political science from Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences and has recently finished a post-doc programme in electoral studies at the University of Tartu. Alla specializes in the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus and other Eastern Partnership countries, Eurasian integration, and energy relations between Russia and the European Union. Leukavets’ enlightening and rich contribution will be split into two parts, and today we publish the first one that deals with election observation in Belarus.

Election observation is the process of assessing the conduct of elections in accordance with national legislation and international election standards by one or more independent actors. It plays an important role in ensuring electoral integrity. This blog post will discuss the types of election observation, main actors, and kinds of electoral malpractices based on a case study of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus.

Photo: Vyasna

Continue reading “Election observation of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus: main actors, electoral manipulations, and lessons for the future.”

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.

Finland and its coronavirus strategy

Our project members Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva not only write about the life and politics changed by the coronavirus for ElMaRB Politics&Pandemics series but also wrote an analytical note for European Dialogue expert group about how Finland deals with the outbreak and what can be learned from it.

In the paper titled “Борьба с пандемией в Финляндии: бесполезные уроки?” (Fighting the pandemic in Finland: useless lessons?), the researchers provide a detailed overview of how the state reacted to the emergency, what measures were undertaken, how the decisions are made, and when will the restrictions be lifted. They conclude, that even though the Finnish strategy seems to be efficient, it is not likely to be borrowed by states with a different political system. However, some things from Finnish experience can still be taken into account. Which ones? You can find out about them from the analytical note.

Should we trust Russian surveys?

In the latest issue of Baltic Rim Economics you can read an article written by our Doctoral student Eemil Mitikka – “Should we trust Russian surveys?”. Eemil has been using survey data in his Master’s Thesis and will continue to use it in his Doctoral dissertation. Russian surveys might indeed raise concerns of preference falsification and under-representation, but what if the situation is not that bad? Eemil in his piece discusses the common challenges that arise when working with survey data and comes to the following conclusion:

To answer the question posed in the title, it is obvious that we should not trust blindly Russian surveys. Yet, since alternative ways to study mass attitudes are limited, surveys maintain their functionality and relevance in public opinion studies. Naturally, it is possible that better methods to study public sentiments will occur in the future. In the meantime, however, traditional surveys serve as valuable tools in analyzing societies – including contemporary Russia.

Read the full article online here.

It’s hard to be a mayor

Riddle published a new piece by Margarita Zavadskaya titled “It’s hard to be a mayor”. In the text, Dr. Zavadskaya discusses constraints that Russian laws and regimes put on mayors’ governance in Russia, also from the point of elections.

However, adjustments must be made for the dominant form of political regime, which in Russia’s case can be termed a consolidated electoral autocracy. It is known that in such circumstances governors are forced to a certain extent to provide the requisite share of votes and increased turnout in federal elections. As municipal heads are de facto accountable to regional administrations for everything from the efficient use of funds, they also have a role to play in these electoral processes. Municipalities in Russia’s political conditions can therefore be considered an extension of the vertical of power. If this is so, then the survival of leaders at the most local level of government may also depend on election results and their success in ensuring the political loyalty of the population.

So how does political mobilisation affect local governance? Does it affect it at all? Two possible answers suggest themselves. The first is that the assistance which municipalities feasibly provide in ensuring turnout, votes, or both results in additional bonuses, access to financing and other programmes which in turn increase the budget available to local heads, giving them more room for manoeuvre. Essentially, political loyalty and budgetary autonomy are mutually reinforcing. The second answer is more pessimistic: if municipalities need to take extra efforts to ensure turnout and votes, they can potentially distract their staff, and divert their resources, away from solving pressing problems, thereby distorting the system of managerial priorities.

The work can be read both in English and in Russian.

With not great elections comes not great governance

PONARS Eurasia published a new policy memo “Explaining Bad Governance in Russia: Institutions and Incentives”, written by Professor Vladimir Gel’man and Margarita Zavadskaya.

What are the sources and mechanisms of governance in Russia? Is bad governance doomed to persist endlessly under authoritarian rule, or can the quality of governance be improved over time by certain policies? Recent discussions attempting to explain good and bad governance in various countries, regions, and policy areas have been quite extensive. How can we place present-day Russia onto this global governance map? And should we consider Russia as an outlier or, rather, as a laggard vis-à-vis many other developed states? We argue here that the Russian political regime provides insufficient incentives for good governance, and that attempts to improve the quality of governance without democratization will not ultimately prove fruitful.

Zavadskaya and Gel’man see one of the reasons for lack of sufficient incentives for good governance in the electoral nature of Russian authoritarianism, which, they say, is heavily dependent on political performance of the “power vertical”, rather than economic one:

The performance of regional and municipal authorities is judged by election results, not by socio-economic achievements. Furthermore, state enterprises and organizations perform functions of workplace electoral mobilization for the sake of the Kremlin and its sub-national agents. The mechanism of accountability within the “power vertical,” based upon prioritization of such political indicators as “degree of popular trust in the president” in a given region, is institutionalized. In other words, the delivery of votes can become a more important task for Russian local governments than the delivery of local public goods. Placing political loyalty above professional efficiency serves as the Achilles heel for a number of authoritarian regimes, and Russia is by no means an exception.

The authors discuss the solutions that Russian authorities offer to change this trend and get rid of bad governance. However, decentralization, deregulation, and digitalization cannot possibly solve the problem without initial democratization – an option that Russian top leaders seem not to consider:

The 4D solution, which goes beyond recipes of deregulation, digitalization, and decentralization and puts democratization as the number one item on the agenda of advancing good governance, remains beyond the current menu of Russia’s authoritarianism. This is why all other recipes for countering bad governance in the country may be considered at best partial and temporary solutions. Yet as the recent experience of Ukraine suggests, even the democratization of Russia’s political regime as such could not guarantee the diminishment of bad governance within the country. Nonetheless, without major political changes, there is no way to improve the quality of governance. Without these changes, Russia most likely will be doomed to muddling through numerous pathologies of bad governance while preserving certain “pockets of efficiency” in strategically-important priority sectors and policy fields, selectively picking up good apples fallen from the bad trees of ineffectiveness and un-rule of law. The question is to what extent these pathologies of bad governance could turn into chronic diseases, not curable under any treatment, and whether or not the “vicious circle” of bad governance in Russia may be broken in the foreseeable future.

Full version of the policy memo can be read online.