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.

Norbert Kersting: Direct democracy integrity and the Russian Constitutional Plebiscitarian Referendum 2020

In October, we organised our International workshop Electoral Integrity and Malpractice in Russia and Beyond: New Challenges and Responses. The event was sponsored by the ElMaRB project, funded by the University of Helsinki 3-year grant for post-doctoral researchers, and INREES network. 20 scholars from Finland and abroad participated in our workshop and around 40 people more watched the streamed keynote lectures. We discussed electoral malpractice and integrity in Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, Eastern EU, and Central Asia. The two days were filled with fascinating presentations and discussions, and we are planning to compile a special issue based on the workshop in the future.

But now it is time to start sharing the recording of the keynote lectures. The first speaker was Norbert Kersting, Professor in Comparative Political Science at Local Muenster University and Chair of Comparative Political Science – Municipal and Regional Politics’. His research focuses on comparative political science, political culture, modern instruments to promote political participation and discourse, local politics, parliamentarism, e-democracy, regional integration, and sport. He published various articles and books, such as the edited book “Electronic democracy” (2012) in the IPSA series: World of Political science. He co-authored a book on “Local Governance reform in global perspective” (VS-Springer 2009). During the workshop, Professor Kersting will give a talk ‘Direct democracy integrity and the Russian Constitutional Plebiscitarian Referendum 2020’.

Referendums at used in modern authoritarian systems as well as in democracies. The new Direct Democracy Integrity Index is a newly developed empirical instrument to evaluate the variety and integrity of referendums. Based on the electoral cycle a referendum cycle was defined in order to evaluate the implementation and the integrity of referendums. It covers electoral laws and electoral procedures as well as thematic limitations of referendums in different political systems. It highlights voter registration and the initiation of referendums. It focuses on campaign and media coverage as well as on campaign financing. Furthermore, the voting process itself, the post referendums vote count, and the role of the electoral authorities are important areas for evaluation. The new instrument was used to analyse constitutional referendum as in the Turkish, Russia, etc. What is the level of integrity in Russia and elsewhere? Where is integrity and what kind of malpractices exist?

If you missed his brilliant talk, here is the recording of it:

Watching Russian Political News for Three Months: Experiences of University of Helsinki Scholars Studying Elections

Six years ago, New York Times journalist Gary Shteyngart spent a week in a Manhattan Four Seasons hotel exposing himself to the Russia Today news channel 24/7. He described his experience daily and in the end reported severe emotional exhaustion, fatigue, and astonishment at how people who are forced to consume highly politicized and low-quality content can remain decent human beings. This summer, from the second half of June until the 18th of September, our project team conducted media monitoring of the 2021 State Duma elections for the Movement for Defence of Voters’ Rights “Golos” – a Russian organisation established in 2000 to protect electoral rights of citizens. Unfortunately our team was not provided a 5-star hotel, but on the other hand, we were luckily not exposed to 24/7 media observation. We took up the task of monitoring the five main Russian TV channels from June to September this summer to evaluate the media coverage of all political parties participating in the State Duma elections. In this brief post, written by Elena Gorbacheva and Margarita Zavadskaya, we share our experience and observations with you.

Pictures by Sasha Yudaev and Ksenia Telmanova

On the 18th of August 2021, Golos was labeled a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian authorities, however, this was not the first time. In 2013 the authorities registered Golos as a domestic election monitor on the list of foreign agents as a nonprofit organisation.  After 2013, Golos continued to work as a non-registered movement and as of 2021 the organization officially became the first entity to be put on the list of foreign agents covering unregistered groups. “Golos” still remains the only independent election watchdog currently active in Russia.

For 13 weeks in a row, our project together with six student volunteers from Russia and Finland watched every newscast on five Russian TV channels – Channel One (Pervyi kanal), Russia 1 (Rossiya 1), NTV, RenTV, and Fifth channel (Pyatyi kanal). On average, every week there were around 150 newscasts across these channels lasting from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

Continue reading “Watching Russian Political News for Three Months: Experiences of University of Helsinki Scholars Studying Elections”

Does co-optation matter for protest mobilization?

Today we held another ElMaRB seminar, during which Margarita Zavadskaya and Alexandra Rumyantseva, data analyst at the Center for Advanced Governance (Moscow) and lecturer at the EUSP presented the research they have been working on – ‘Does co-optation matter for protest mobilization? Evidence from the Russian protests against the pension reform in 2018’. Andrei Semenov, Senior Researcher at the Center for Comparative History and Politics at Perm State University and Aleksanteri Institute former Visiting Researcher, acted as a discussant.

The Russian pension reform in 2018 put an end to the ‘rallying around’ the political leader V. Putin and pulled down his rating back to the usual 60%. The reform revised the retirement age and suggested a five-year increase from 55 to 60 for women and from 60 to 65 for men. This lead to a massive outcry and protests in almost all Russian regions. Tens of thousands of protesters took into the streets claiming that the state reneged on its basic social obligations and that given the average life expectancy it is unlikely to most of the would-be retirees would live up to the pension age at all.

This research addresses the question of whether the in-system political parties affected the frequency and scale of protests in Russian regions. There is evidence that some systemic opposition supported the protesters, while most of the observers argue that systemic parties cooperated with the state and promoted demobilization of the protest movement. In other words, does political co-optation decrease protest?

Zavadskaya and Rumiantseva’s preliminary findings suggest that in-system parties, against expectations, favor the scale and frequency of protest: a larger share of systemic opposition in local legislatures is positively associated with a protest on a city level. They collected an original dataset of 616 municipal districts from which in 317 there were protests. They measured protest through its frequency per region and locality as well as a number of coalitions between opposition actors.

Expert discussion on the 2021 State Duma Elections at the Aleksanteri Institute

If you missed our discussion on the elections held on the 8th of October, worry no more – now you can watch it with subtitles in our blog! The event was moderated by Margarita Zavadskaya, who gave a brief outline of the 2021 election results. Her introduction was followed by a presentation by Vladimir Gel’man, who spoke about how differently (or not) these elections were compared to the previous ones. Olga Dovbysh continued the conversation, discussing what was the role of online media and global international platforms such as Google in this voting. Elena Gorbacheva spoke about traditional media and shared what the media monitoring of five TV-channels ElMaRB project conducted for Golos revealed about the election campaign in Russia. Markku Kangaspuro spoke about Finnish-Russian relations from a historical perspective and pondered, whether these elections change anything for Finland. During the Q&A session, the researchers discussed the issues of Smart Voting, the real popularity of the United Russia party, and other themes. Were there any alarms or surprises this year? Is there anything positive to look forward to? Watch the recording and find out.

(No) alarms and no surprises? Aleksanteri Institute experts discuss recent Russian State Duma elections

On the 17-19th of September, the Russian people elected the new Duma. However, elections were marred with fraud, forced mobilisation, and controversial use of electronic voting. What does it suggest for the future of the Russian political regime? What does it mean for the Finland-Russia relationship? Does it compromise the use of innovation such as e-voting? Why no protests followed the election? Has the ‘Smart Vote’ strategy been efficient this time? What does it mean for the Russian civil society? With increasing pressure on media, what is the future for the Russian opposition?

Our ElMaRB project together with the Russian Media Lab organises an expert discussion on the recent Russian elections on the 8th of October, Friday, from 15:00 to 17:00 in Zoom. The panel of experts – Olga Dovbysh, Vladimir Gel’man, Elena Gorbacheva, Markku Kangaspuro, and Margarita Zavadskaya – will discuss these and other questions from the perspectives of electoral manipulation, media, internal and external politics.

The event will be organised in Zoom, join us on the 8th of October, 15:00 sharp at

Disunited Russia: The Kremlin, the Opposition and the 2021 Duma Elections

We continue to analyse the 2021 Duma election and its results within our ElMaRB project, and today we want to share with you a recording of the discussion “Disunited Russia: The Kremlin, the Opposition and the 2021 Duma Elections” in which Margarita Zavadskaya participated on the 22nd of September. The event was organised by the King’s Russia Institute and among other speakers, there were Regina Smyth (Indiana University), Ben Noble (UCL-SSEES), Andrei Semenov (Perm State University), and Sam Greene, King’s College London.

Russians head to the polls on 19 September, for the first parliamentary elections since the Kremlin initiated a dramatic shift in its handling of the country’s political opposition. With Alexei Navalny in jail, many leading activists in exile and key media outlets shuttered, those who offer an alternative to Vladimir Putin’s vision for the country have struggled to mount an effective challenge. And yet support for United Russia has waned, in the face of the ongoing pandemic and seemingly intractable economic stagnation.

What did the experts say about the election results, the place of the Duma in Russian politics, and the evolving relationship between Russian voters and their state? Watch the video below: