The Russian people will vote on Sunday, but the final result has already been decided. United Russia will win 59.7% of the final vote, and the turnout will be 56%. The Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Just Russia will all scrape past the 7% electoral threshold, providing various shades of political vegetation in the sixth Duma.
Russia’s public opinion research centre, VTsIOM, published this ‘forecast’ yesterday; the methodology is revealing. The report starts by polling 1,600 people across Russia using conventional methods. The raw data is probably a fairish reflection of Russian public opinion: United Russia, 45%; the Communist Party, 13%; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, 10%; and Just Russia, 5%.
A few sleights of hand turn the opinion poll into a ‘forecast’ of the final result. First, the raw data are adjusted to take account of predicted turnout and the likely effect of the 7% threshold. Then the figure is amended to incorporate the deliberations of an ‘expert panel’. In the final calculation, United Russia wins 59.7% of the vote, the Communist Party 19%, the Liberal Democrats 11.3% and Fair Russia 8.8%.
The identities of the ‘experts’ massaging an extra 15% into United Russia’s vote are, of course, a closely kept secret. But they are not relying on instinct to predict the final result. Russia’s governors (all Kremlin appointees) have been allocated quotas determining the United Russia vote share that they must secure in their region. Then they must deliver voters, dead or alive.
Some governors enthusiastically exceed the Kremlin’s demands. In 2007, the Chechen governor, Ramzan Kadyrov, was top of the class delivering 99.36% of his region’s vote for United Russia. Over ninety percent of the vote also went to the party of power in Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkarskoy, Mordovia and Karachaevo-Chekesskaya. It is hardly surprising, then, that Russia’s governors have been dubbed ‘locomotives’ (parovozi) because they drive United Russia to victory.
But the current government risks outstaying its welcome. Public support for United Russia is falling and, even with ‘assistance’ from the regional governors, the party is predicted to win 50 or 60 less seats in the Duma than in 2007. Vladimir Putin, a politician who always seemed invincible, was booed at a recent martial arts event in Moscow. United Russia’s leaders are getting their excuses in early, pointing to the strong anti-incumbency mood sweeping Europe.
United Russia should face few real obstacles to gaining an overall majority on Sunday. For the time being, Joseph Stalin’s adage remains true: “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”