Exploring Varieties of Governance in Russia: In Search of Theoretical Frameworks

Another article of the special issue Good and Bad Governance in Russia: Actors and Institutions (2021, vol.73, N6), edited by Margarita Zavadskaya and Vladimir Gel’man, was published today. Zavadskaya and Gel’man wrote together an introduction “Exploring Varieties of Governance in Russia: In Search of Theoretical Frameworks” to the Europe-Asia Studies special issue.

It is a given that the quality of governance makes a difference. It determines the developmental trajectories of states and it influences the everyday lives of their citizens. Why are some countries governed worse than others? In particular, why is contemporary Russia governed so much worse than one would expect, judging by its degree of socio-economic development? In comparative perspective, Russia is an example of a high-capacity authoritarian state, which exhibits the major features of bad governance, such as lack and/or perversion of the rule of law, rent-seeking, corruption, poor quality of state regulation, widespread public funds abuse, and overall ineffectiveness of government (Gel’man 2017, p. 498). These features have been demonstrated in numerous recent assessments of Russia vis-à-vis other countries, conducted by various agencies. For example, Russia ranked as 137th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Corruption Perception Index.1 In 2020, the composite evaluation of the rule of law index by the World Justice Project ranked Russia as 94th out of 128 countries.2 In the period 1996–2015, the average indicator of corruption control in Russia, according to the World Bank, was −0.86 on a scale from −2.5 (lowest possible grade) tо +2.5 (highest possible grade).3 This is why the overall picture of patterns of governance in Russia remains rather gloomy even vis-à-vis some of its post-Soviet neighbours (Zaostrovtsev 2017) and the BRICS countries (Taylor 2018, pp. 159–60). However, one should go beyond these statistics and address two more basic questions: what are the sources and mechanisms of governance in Russia? Is bad governance doomed to persist endlessly, or can the quality of governance be improved over time by certain policies?

To find answers to these questions, read the full article online.

Providing Goods and Votes? Federal Elections and the Quality of Local Governance in Russia

Europe-Asia Studies published a new article of the upcoming special issue Good and Bad Governance in Russia: Actors and Institutions (2021, vol.73, N6), edited by Margarita Zavadskaya and Vladimir Gel’man. The article published on the 21st of June is titled “Providing Goods and Votes? Federal Elections and the Quality of Local Governance in Russia” and is written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Lev Shilov (Director,  Urbanism & Participation Research Centre, European University at St Petersburg).

Does electoral support affect the quality of public goods provision? In this study, we explore the variety of governance patterns on the level of Russian municipalities from 2012 to 2018. We estimate the effects of budget autonomy and electoral loyalty during federal elections on public goods provision and explore whether elected heads provide better services. Our findings suggest that since elected heads have limited capacity to provide better services, electoral loyalty does not uniformly result in improved public goods provision in municipalities.

The article can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

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.