The Campaign

The head of staff of Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign, Stanislav Govorukhin, gave an interview to the Izvestia daily, where he shared a few interesting details about Putin’s ongoing quest for the third presidency.

First, Govorukhin criticized President Dmitry Medvedev, the very man who nominated Putin for presidency, for not campaigning for the nominee.  Govorukhin might have a point here, yet the significance of Medvedev staying on the sidelines isn’t exactly clear.  On the one hand, Putin doesn’t really need Medvedev campaigning for him: his own ratings are higher than those of the lame-duck president.  On the other hand, Medvedev’s absence on the campaign trail is fueling rumors of a growing split between members of the crumbling “tandem.”  At the very least, it’s fair to say that by ignoring Putin’s campaign, Medvedev doesn’t improve his chances of becoming prime minister in the future Putin administration.

Second, Govorukhin agreed that by running his campaign on the platform of the All-Russia People’s Front, Putin deliberately distances himself from the United Russia party, whose chairman he officially is.   This demoralizes the party’s functionaries, especially in the regions, and puts its leadership in a difficult position.  Like ivy, United Russia is incapable of standing alone; it can only exist by creeping over the body of a “national leader.”  The “edinorosses” still pretend that Putin’s swing with the Front is just a short-term opportunistic affair brought about by purely tactical considerations and that after winning the election, Putin will return to the party fold.  If this doesn’t happen – because, for example, Putin has long-term plans for the Front or decides to become a “nonpartisan” president – United Russia is finished.  It will collapse upon the first attempt to reform it.

Third, Govorukhin admitted that the election campaign staff he’s presiding over is no more than a front for the operation, whereas the real decision-making process is taking place in a shadow staff headed by the deputy chief of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin.  Given Russia’s political realities, there is no sense in discussing the legality of this arrangement.  However, one would wonder how Medvedev can function as president when his administration is busy with running the election campaign of his own prime minister.

As every efficient Russian bureaucrat, Volodin is publicity shy and prefers leading “from behind.”  A message that he reportedly sent to the regional governors included two orders: to make the March 4 elections as clean as possible and to ensure Putin’s victory in the first round of the vote.  Cynics would argue that the two demands can’t possibly be met at the same time.  Yet, the meaning of Volodin’s message is very clear to its shrewd recipients: on March 4, Putin must get over 50% of the vote without giving the opposition any tangible evidence of the election fraud.

And that’s where Russian polling agencies step in.  One of them, VTSIOM, reported that the number of Russians willing to vote for Putin grew by a whopping 7% in the first two weeks of the year, reaching 52% on Jan. 14.  Yet, VTSIOM’s general director, Valery Fedorov, urged supporters of the candidate not to become too complacent.  Interestingly, Fedorov made this remark at a meeting sponsored by Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front, an awkward venue for a man whose agency’s polls will later be used as evidence of authenticity of the election results.

Two other major Russian polling agencies, FOM and Levada Center, gave slightly smaller figures for Putin’s ratings: 44% and 37%, respectively.  However, given even lower numbers polled by Putin’s opponents, the data strongly suggest that Putin’s victory in the first round of the vote is all by assured.

Yet, the differences between the three forecasts seem to suggest that the Kremlin remains undecided on the precise number of the vote Putin should receive on March 4.  Anything close to the 53% won by Putin in 2000 will be considered a serious blow to his reputation of a “national leader” and may force the conservative part of the elites question his ability to protect their privileged political and economic interests.  On the other hand, any result approaching the 71% of the vote collected by Putin in 2004 will only energize the critics of the regime and may lead to the escalation of the street protests.  It would seem that the final decision will be made toward the end of the month and this decision will take into account a number of factors, including the relative strength of pro- and anti-Putin demonstrations scheduled for the coming Saturday.

Once the “target” number of the “for Putin” vote is established, it will be promptly communicated to VTSIOM, FOM and Levada Center for the subsequent use in pre-election and exit polling.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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48 Responses to The Campaign

  1. FOM, Levada, and VCIOM are not comparable. All those figures (esp. Levada’s 37%) massively understate Putin’s support because they are given in their raw form and don’t adjust for those who say they will not vote or haven’t decided. Adjustment give Putin a first round victory of around 60% in all three cases. Please check the polls at their source instead of relying on Vedomosti.

    • And, as you can see, 63% vote for Putin in response to the question: “ПРИШЛИ БЫ ВЫ НА ВЫБОРЫ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА РОССИИ, И ЕСЛИ ДА – ЗА КОГО БЫ ВЫ ПРОГОЛОСОВАЛИ, ЕСЛИ БЫ В СПИСКЕ КАНДИДАТОВ БЫЛИ СЛЕДУЮЩИЕ ПОЛИТИКИ?”

      In practice, the real result can be expected to be slightly smaller, perhaps 58%, due to the relative passivity of Putin’s electorate. But nowhere near 37% or 44%.

      Then add perhaps 2% fraud (I think the level of fraud these elections will be lower than in 2011, given all the webcams and negative attention) to make 60%. That, incidentally, is safely between 53% and 70%.

      • Eugene says:

        Anatoly,

        I can assure you that I know that the 37% called by Levada isn’t enough for Putin to win in the first round. I can further assure you that I’m quite capable, mathematically speaking, of reproducing the calculations that you refer to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written that “the [polling] data strongly suggest that Putin’s victory in the first round of the vote is all by assured.” Moreover, in the very next paragraph, I mention the same bracket of Putin’s anticipated win, 53%-71%, that you seem to favor.

        So, what’s the problem? The lack of the notion that “FOM, Levada, and VCIOM are not comparable?”

        Best Regards,
        Eugene

        • Okay, I didn’t immediately recognize that. Sorry. I’ve become so used to seeing the 37% figure used in the media as proof that Putin cannot honestly win in the first round that it must have been a kneejerk response.

  2. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    I have to say that I am with Anatoly here. I have seen no evidence that opinion polls are controlled in the way you suggest. Bluntly if they were there would be some tangible evidence of it.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      I don’t think this was Anatoly’s objection. He rather seems to be unhappy with the way I presented the Levada data.

      Best,
      Eugene

    • Well now that Alex mentions, that’s a very valid objection – and one that I have made in detail elsewhere.

      I accept that VCIOM may, on very sensitive issues, muddle its figures on occasion. In particular, it’s exit poll figures for the Duma elections were dubious in my opinion.

      However, I completely discount it on Levada’s part. They are independent, their director openly doesn’t like Putinism, and they frequently produce results that contradict the Kremlin narrative (e.g., their post-elections poll in Moscow gave UR way fewer votes than the official tally).

      Another issue, of course, is the difficulty of keeping it all secret. Between three different polling organizations, each with hundreds of employees, i.e. potential whistleblowers.

      • Eugene says:

        Anatoly,

        I never questioned the Levada Center’s independence when it was headed by Yuri Levada. However, since Gudkov became the director, the Center does more work for government (I saw somewhere a note that the Kremlin reportedly gave Levada money for them to poll not 1,600 people, as they usually do, but 4,500 or so — but couldn’t find the link, and there is no evidence so far they’d accepted the money: they still poll 1,600). This places the question of “independence” into a grey area; yet, I completely agree that Levada might be “more independent” than the other two.

        Now, do I have any legal proof that the Kremlin forces polling agencies to accept its numbers? Of course, not. Do I realize how provocative is what I’m saying? Of course, I do. But let’s take a broader look at the problem. It’d be hardly an exaggeration to say that the Kremlin is trying to keep tight control of the political process. TV is certainly under some pressure (“black lists” in the recent past, etc.), regional governors are getting some kind of directions, the CEC is doing its part too, and so on. And in the middle of that, we supposedly have three “independent” agencies that are completely free to do what they want and to publish whatever numbers they have honestly collected. And more to that, the results of their pols represent the strongest — if not the only — evidence of the lack of the election fraud.

        I see no logic here. At the very least, I’d expect the Kremlin trying to place them under control, too. And now we watch Fedorov almost openly campaigning for Putin and publishing polls that essentially tell to everybody: it’s over. Putin has already won (78% of Russians already believe that — a month ahead of the polls!) and the elections were clean. This is not polling anymore; it’s propaganda.

        You know poll numbers better than me, but as I remember, none of the three agencies did particular good job predicting the results of the Duma elections. All called for JR barely overcoming the threshold 7% — it polled twice of that. Yabloko was never getting more than 1-2% — it got 3%, 10-15% in large cities, and this is an underestimation. And against this background of sloppy forecasts, we have this beautiful (relatively speaking) match for UR. Well, there must be explanation for that, and I’m very open to alternatives.

        Best,
        Eugene

        • Regime loyalist Lev Gudkov: “Подытожу все сказанное: «путинизм» – это система децентрализованногоиспользования институциональных ресурсов насилия, сохранившихся у силовых структур, оставшихся от тоталитарных режима, но апроприированных держателями власти для обеспечения своих частных,кланово-групповых интересов. Режим неустойчив, с сомнительными шансамив перспективе на воспроизводство или мирный порядок передачи власти.”

          I really have nothing more to add on that particular point.

          Second. According to a post-elections poll, Levada gave a figure of 32% in Moscow. This implies fraud of 15%. There is no question of such a figure being released if it were controlled or unduly influenced by the Kremlin.

          There is an explanation for the issue you raise in your last paragraph, I wrote about it a month ago (“The Argument For Compulsory Voting In Russia”). United Russia’s electorate is relatively passive, so more people say they’re going to vote for them in opinion polls (because answering an opinion poll is easy) than actually go out and vote for them (because that involves hauling one’s ass down to the polling station). As a consequence of the lower United Russia vote, the other parties get more; hence, them being underestimated in those polls.

          • Eugene says:

            Anatoly,

            You’re talking about Levada post-election poll, which the Kremlin never mentions. But the Kremlin always refers to its PRE-election poll that matches the official results. Call it a “split-the-difference” approach: you give us one poll that we like and then release another to cover your ass. How about that for explanation?

            Best,
            Eugene

            • Sergey says:

              Eugene,

              weren’t there two post-election Levada polls, and the second one showed the results close to the official ones? I know, you could say that in the meantime Gudkov has had his nails removed by кровавая гебня – but an alternative is that the intensity of media attack telling people “what should have happened” could not be sustained for long, and people stopped being afraid to admit they voted UR.

              • Eugene says:

                Sergey,

                This is entirely possible, and I’m sure that you, Anatoly and me can come up with a thousand of additional plausible explanations. But explain me this: what is the reason for having “post-election” polls in the first place? I understand the meaning of exit polls when voters are asked WHY they’d voted for this or that candidate — or what the issue was the most important to them. But why holding polls when the official results are already known? To check the precision of what? Official results? Your own polling techniques?

                Best,
                Eugene

                • Sergey says:

                  Eugene,

                  survey design and sample selection aren’t precise science. I know, I had to teach some of the stuff. You want as much checking as possible. Additional benefit is in studying how much you could trust people, or, coming from the other direction, how easily they could be swayed by a sustained propaganda campaign.

  3. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene

    They (or maybe, it was me? : ) say that a good politician, if he wants, can say what he wants in such a way that everyone who listens will understand what they want ..🙂 IMHO – you would make a good politician.

    Cheers

    PS. a quote : “..the Kremlin remains undecided on the precise number of the vote Putin should receive on March 4. “..🙂 That was a good one!

    • Eugene says:

      Hi Alex,

      Returning the favor: the better the quote, the higher the chance you were its author:)

      I agree: I do have some qualities of a good politician. The only problem: I hate kissing babies…

      Cheers,
      Eugene

  4. Sergey says:

    Eugene,

    37% was clearly used for two reasons: first, as a shot into the campaign over whether the first round will be enough, and second, to generate a number that post-March 4 manifestations would be using as an evidence of fraud. No one ever remembers the context. Usage of this number in the media was a clear example of that statistics which goes after big lie – why did you need to go for it, it’s tainted!

    The Levada Center document itself states:

    Г) И, наконец, % соотношение от числа определившихся, которые намерены прийти на выборы (эти результаты наиболее близки к возможному распределению голосов на выборах, если бы они состоялись на момент проведения опроса).

    Under 2Г, the number is the same 63% in both December and January. This seems to be Levada’s own best result.

    • Eugene says:

      Sergey,

      In 2008 Democratic primaries, Obama beat Clinton in Iowa, and all the polls were predicting that he would kill her in New Hampshire. Despite the forecast, Clinton won by high margins. After the primary, the whole polling business went into deep soul-searching trying to understand what went wrong. (They seem to be doing better job this year for the Republicans.) However, facing the obvious mismatch between polls and primary numbers, no one questioned the authenticity of the results — because everyone knew that the election fraud didn’t take place.

      The problem with Russian elections is that there is a widespread perception that the election results are routinely falsified. For this reason — and for this reason alone! — so much attention is paid to the results of the polls, because people are trying to find something — anything! — to trust.

      I don’t want to spend hours trying to decipher the meaning of Levada numbers, most likely intentionally convoluted by their authors to maintain intrigue and their own significance. I want to trust the Russian election system — instead of comparing results from 3 polling agencies in a desperate attempt to figure out who’s “more independent.”

      That said, I found interesting your idea that the 37% number was intentionally thrown in by Levada to taint the election results. So much for “independence.”

      Best,
      Eugene

      • Sergey says:

        Eugene,

        Levada is probably more “independent”. Whether they are more “honest” is another issue. I do know they used to play games with wording of the questions, which is a rather reliable way of biasing results.

        After all, the main defense of the “free press” concept is that if we have many media outlets expressing different interests, we get a full and undistorted picture in the end. Could we apply the same model to the polling agencies?

        • Eugene says:

          “Could we apply the same model to the polling agencies?”

          Theoretically, yes. I’m just not sure how many “independent” polling agencies in Russia can be economically viable. Even the Big Three depend on government contracts.

          But again, in the core of the problem is election system, not polling agencies. I personally can live with sloppy pollsters for as long as I trust election officials.

          Best,
          Eugene

          • Sergey says:

            Eugene,

            trust is to a significant degree endogenous. If you are in opposition, you hear the number 37% taken out of context and you remember it. Then you hear some stories about voting fraud which are inevitable in any elections in (almost) any country. Your confirmation bias doesn’t let you to think through the numbers and weigh all the evidence. As a result, you are persuaded even more of Russian elections being fraudulent. Easy.

            Another problem in contemporary Russia is a generally low level of trust in a society, as evidenced by a number of international surveys. (I guess we would trust the vote numbers more if counting were done by the monks, church being one of the most trusted institutions in the country; alas, church and the state are separated). I won’t even start on Russian intelligentsia’s habit of holding their government in utter contempt, whether or not this is warranted.

            Finally, on American primaries. It is funny you choose this example. I have read about many irregularities in 2012 Iowa caucuses, and that the question will never be resolved as the ballots were destroyed. Given the small margin of the victory, this really mattered – but no one cared. Fox News, when reporting the results, mentioned Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich – but no strong third place of Paul. I could continue, but the point is very simple – if one’s level of trust in American elections is very strong, evidence to the contrary will not penetrate their consciousness and lead to practical consequences until it reaches catastrophic proportions. On the other hand, any evidence of a local fraud in Russian elections will be taken for granted and held as demonstrating that the legitimacy of the Duma or President is absent.

            • Eugene says:

              Sergey,

              100% subscribe to your second para. And that’s the real problem: the mistrust in the system is so deep and widespread that no matter how clean election they will run on March 4, the perception of the fraud won’t disappear. It’s like this proverbial boy who cried wolf…

              Best,
              Eugene

              p.s. I know: it’s very popular to quote Fox News on any occasion. But for now, let me leave entertainment aside.

      • marknesop says:

        “…and all the polls were predicting that he would kill her in New Hampshire. Despite the forecast, Clinton won by high margins”.

        Never underestimate the power of the X factor. Mrs. Clinton became overcome with emotion during a campaign stop, and nearly lost her self-control in tears. This was an intensely human moment, and voters responded powerfully. But that in itself was not enough. Edmund Muskie, going into the 1972 primaries, responded to what has become the typical attack-the-candidate’s-family tactics and defended his wife against completely unfounded “fishing” allegations that she was a drunk. He, too, became overcome with emotion and nearly broke down in tears. But because he was a man and public crying is unmanly (or at least it was until John Boehner popularized it as a form of interpretive burlesque), sympathy did not translate to votes.

        But the perfect setup obtained in Clinton’s case. She teared up in an emotional moment, and became attractively vulnerable. John Edwards, perhaps hoping to use it to advantage the way it had worked against Muskie, opined that it proved Mrs. Clinton was too weak and emotional to be President. New Hampshire voters, mostly women, reacted angrily and gave Mrs. Clinton a resounding victory that was never repeated in the rest of the campaign.

        http://themoderatevoice.com/16965/tears-in-new-hampshire-ed-muskie-and-hillary-clinton/

        This is a good and a bad example of anything-can-happen-in-politics. It’s good because, obviously, anything can happen in politics and voters are a skittish, volatile mix – that’s why the push poll or the scurrilous lie at the last moment when it’s too late for the voters to verify its authenticity are so effective. It’s a bad example because it is unlikely to have any effect in the Russian elections. Putin will be watched like a hawk and every word he says will be parsed for implications. If he were to attempt a show of emotion to sway the voters, the western press would trumpet it as cynical vote grab, and they would be very likely to do so even if it were genuine. The western press hates Putin, and would do anything necessary to make him lose. It only worked once even for Clinton; that’s what I’m saying – it was a one-time, random effect. And you can’t use a random effect to predict victory or defeat, because you can’t know it’s coming.

        I tend to favour Anatoly’s prediction of a win for Putin at around 60%. But whatever you believe, I would submit it’s no reason to suggest the Kremlin and the polling agencies are putting their heads together in advance of the election to settle on how much Putin should win by, unless you have information that suggests that is the case. If you have, I stand corrected.

  5. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    I am worried that this whole argument is looking like a closed argument based on a chain of inferences arising from a set of disputed facts. By your own admission you have no evidence that the government controls the polling agencies in the way that you say. As for your point about the opinion poll results prior to the parliamentary elections surely the fact that the opinion and exit poll predictions did not exactly correspond with the actual poll results is evidence that the system is not anything like as tightly controlled as you say it is given which perhaps we ought to have rather more trust in both the opinion polls and the opinion poll agencies and indeed in the actual poll results? Bear in mind that apart from some video evidence that I understand is coming under increasing challenge the principal evidence for fraud in the recent parliamentary elections especially in Moscow IS the exit poll results. I must tell you that after reading this article I feel that you are in danger of slipping into the trap of only trusting the result of an election that Putin loses.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      I totally agree that we’ve got a “closed argument” problem here: despite evidence of the election fraud in the Duma election, its results are considered authentic because they largely correspond to the pre-election and exit polls. However, the honesty of the poll data is not independently verified; it’s taken for granted.

      Why? As I argued, there is evidence of the Kremlin’s tight control over parts of media, CEC and regional authorities. Yet, you believe that for whatever reason, the Kremlin left polling agencies alone.

      I’d argue that the burden of proof is on you to explain such an omission on the part of the usually nothing-taking-for-granted presidential administration.

      Best,
      Eugene

      • Alexander Mercouris says:

        Dear Eugene,

        The problem with this argument it seems to me is that you are reversing the burden of proof. Because you assume the election results are falsified you are obliged to assume that the opinion polls are falsified as well. Yet on your own admission you have NO evidence that the opinion polls are falsified whilst such evidence as there is that the recent parliamentary election results were falsified ultimately mainly comes from the fact that the final result did not precisely correlate especially in Moscow with the opinion and exit polls.

        Is it not altogether simpler and more reasonable to assume that the fact that the opinion polls and the exit polls roughly (but by no means exactly) correspond with the actual voting results means that the opinion and exit polls are honest and that the election results are largely honest as well?

        As to demanding verification of the opinion poll data, this seems to me unreasonable. Surely the onus should be on those who allege fraud on the part of the polling agencies to prove it not on the opinion poll agencies to disprove it? To ask this of the opinion poll agencies is to ask them to prove a negative, something the evidential difficulty of which we all know.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Dear Eugene,

          I should have added in the last paragraph reference to the Kremlin as well. Whatever one may think of Putin & Co the onus should not be on them to prove that they are not falsifying the opinion poll data (or on me to prove that they are not falsifying the opinion poll data) but on those who allege such a thing to prove that they do so.

          In any event I have to say that I take issue with you concerning the Kremlin. I do not get the impression that its control of political life is anything like as all encompassing as you say. Nor by the way do I think that it has any desire to make it so. Putin is not Stalin and he cannot control or expect to control political life to anything like the degree that Stalin or other Soviet leaders once did and I am sure he knows this and does he want to either.

          Incidentally I have not before heard much in the way of criticism of the opinion poll agencies such as to call into question their integrity such as you are now making. Possibly I am wrong about this and perhaps that criticism has been made before and has been widespread but please forgive me if I suggest that the reason you may now be questioning the integrity of the opinion poll agencies is not because you have real reason to doubt their integrity but because you have difficulty accepting the information they are providing.

          • Eugene says:

            Dear Alexander,

            Indeed, our argument becomes more and more “circular.” It’s time, perhaps, to re-state my position again in, hopefully, simpler terms. The Kremlin control of political life in Russia includes manipulations of political party space, elections, and parts of the media and other bodies influencing public opinion, including polling agencies. (The idea that the Kremlin is attempting to influence the results of public polls isn’t mine; it’s been articulated many times by many Russian analysts.) You’re certainly entitled to your impressions. Mine are formed by more than 7 years of closely watching Russian politics as well as regular trips to Russia that always include meetings with people actively engaged in politics on both sides of the “barricade.”

            I do not assume that the election results have been falsified. I know that as do many people in Russia and elsewhere. Although the extend of the falsification can be argued — and Anatoly has done a superb job compiling the variety of opinions — the very fact of it can’t. (Please, do check the links Alex and me exchanged downstream this thread; I’ll be happy to provide you with more, if you wish.) Yet, when it comes to the proof to the contrary — that the elections results are authentic — the only argument that I hear is that the results are “generally” (“closely,” “broadly,” etc.) correspond to the pre-election and exit polls.

            You can believe in whatever you choose to, bur I’m puzzled with your unconditional trust in the integrity of Russian polling agencies. Sure, I can’t provide you with a letter signed by Putin to the heads of VTSIOM, FOM and Levada asking them to fix the results of their polls. But I’m surprised that this is the only proof that you would accept.

            Best,
            Eugene

  6. Eugene says:

    Mark,

    I love your story of politicians’ tears converted (or not) into votes. But again, my point was that in the US, there is a single denominator to all pre-election poll “fluctuations:” an ultimate trust in the process of vote COUNTING. I already voted a number of times here and I can assure you that elderly ladies and gentlemen at my polling station can be arrested, beaten or even killed, but they can’t be forced in falsifying the election results — by me with a pack of dollars (not that I’m going to do that, of course:)) or by President Obama with his “Yes you can” message (as much as he wished:)).

    Unfortunately, as of today, this can’t be said about Russia. So some folks — in Russia and elsewhere — are looking for another denominator: “independent” polling agencies. I can think of a lot of reasons for having pre-election and exit polls, but serving as the only evidence of the lack of the election fraud is not one of them. The evidence must come “from within.” If you have it, everything else is irrelevant. Even VTSIOM’s director Fedorov openly campaigning for Putin.

    Best,
    Eugene

    • Sergey says:

      Eugene,

      your story about elderly ladies lack any substance – how is it that you could assure us they would rather be killed than falsify the results? Just by looking at them? Believing into the force of peer pressure? Knowing they used to be married to Caesar and thus are beyond suspicions?

      You see what you want to see. You look at an election official and a-priori see a crook. But behold a story of a boy who walked like a thief, talked like a thief, and generally behaved like a thief – until the farmer found his lost axe and the boy became a normal boy.

      Rasumkov Center’s director not only openly campaigned for Yushenko, he eventually became his defense minister. Which didn’t prevent Western media from putting an unconditional trust in his Center’s results. You trust whom you want to trust – or, alternatively, you get together all available evidence and try to estimate the fraud levels for yourself. If you refuse to do so because of trust in one set of elderly ladies but not another, this is most definitely not a valid argument but an expression of your personal
      prejudice.

      • Eugene says:

        Sergey,

        “Believing into the force of peer pressure?” Exactly! All politics is peer pressure in some or other form. I have no problem with imagining that this old lady who was smiling at me when taking in my ballot has just stuffed the ballot box with votes for her favorite candidate. Fine. But I didn’t see it, my wife didn’t see it, my neighbors didn’t see it, my colleagues didn’t see it at their respective poll stations. Nobody saw it. And in the evening, the vast majority of candidates would issue a statement accepting the results of the vote. And if they don’t, they litigate until someone concedes. And mind you, the seat in dispute states open until then.

        Sure, the party list election system to be largely blamed, but what I think pisses off many folks in Russia is the finality of the election results, no matter what. Observers are writing their complaints, but the CEC already certifies the results of the elections, and Churov relates victoriously to Medvedev that the elections were fair and clean. And how would he know that? You bet! By referring to the pre-election polls.

        And then, you’re suggested to go to court. To challenge exactly what? The certification?

        Best,
        Eugene

        p.s. If we need to invoke the Yushchenko campaign sham to highlight the cleanness of the Duma election, we’ve got a real problem.

        • Sergey says:

          Eugene,

          someone saw ‘it’ in Iowa – otherwise, how would these stories appear on right-wing sites? Are they clear fabrication? Or is your social strata ignoring these things? I don’t observe too many drug addicts in my social circle, but I don’t take it as an evidence of their absence. It is the same argument you’d often hear on “Ekho of Moscow” – ‘I’ don’t know anyone who’d vote for UR. Of course – ‘you’ wouldn’t know ‘them’, and ‘they’ wouldn’t know ‘you’. Easy. Societies are stratified, and mixing isn’t all that perfect.

          What pisses ‘folks’ in Russia is that they don’t get what they want (this assumes they know what they want, which might be incorrect). And deep in their hearts, they understand they won’t get it unless some necessary conditions are satisfied, in particular stopping proudly declaring “Мы – не быдло. Быдло тот, кто не с нами.” But that’s asking too much of them.

          Best,
          Sergey

          PS I’m talking about perceptions of fraud and the fact that correlation of actual cleanliness of an election with perception of such cleanliness isn’t one. Maybe not zero, either, but it will definitely be different if you separate the sample into Western-friendly and unfriendly election outcomes. My Razumkov/Yushenko argument was for fickle perceptions of cleanness, not for evidence of cleanness of Duma or presidential elections.

          PPS Back in 2000, I read articles commending Gore for conceding instead of dragging the country through the mud of legal suits forever and thus taking interests of the country to the heart. I’m not sure I believe most perpetrators of the current Fronde take country’s interests to the heart. On the other hand, election falsifiers didn’t, either, but I’m not sure that’s the measuring stick Fronde leaders would like to use.

          • Eugene says:

            Saw “it” in Iowa? Find the guy/gal responsible and put him/her in prison, what the problem. Does this deprives US politicians and the media of their self-assumed authority to teach Russia “democracy?” Absolutely. Should this silence those in Russia who saw “it” there? I don’t think so.

            I don’t particularly care about the leaders of the Fronde; some of them are people whom I criticized in the past and will criticize in the future. (However, as a matter of principle, I wouldn’t question their understanding of the country’s interests: they live there, I don’t). But I fully sympathize with thousands of ordinary folks who joined the meeting for the first time in their lives — because they felt like being treated as быдло. I’m not sure that they’ve had enough time to think about “conditions,” much less about “programs” and “leaders.” It’ll come later. Or won’t.

            The real question now is whether these protests were emotional one-off or a sign of emerging political activity of the middle class. The rest — polls, elections results, Putin’s victory in the first round — is somewhat secondary, IMHO.

            Best,
            Eugene

  7. marknesop says:

    I sincerely admire your conviction that American elections are the bellwether for free and fair elections everywhere, Eugene. However, I urge caution based on the simplicity with which voting machines can be hacked (even Fox News agrees),

    http://www.dailytech.com/Princeton+Researchers+Hack+Diebold+EVoting+Machine/article4177.htm

    the stacking of the deck in favour of a particular candidate achieved by gerrymandering and redistricting,

    http://www.stealingourvotes.com/pages/1/index.htm

    the tactics employed for suppression of undesired votes

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=4088097&page=1#.TytREchnDmd

    and the recognition of corporations as “persons” by the United States Supreme Court, thereby removing limits on funds corporations can employ to support their chosen candidate.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34822247/ns/politics-supreme_court/t/supreme-court-rolls-back-campaign-cash-limits/#.TytiB8hnDmc

    I absolutely do not doubt the integrity of Mom and Pop at the polling station, and agree they would stand fiercely against bribery or intimidation. However, the battle for the voters’ minds is won or lost before he/she steps up to cast a ballot. It might be any one from a plethora of dirty tricks – maybe the voter got a call in the middle of the Super Bowl game that was a political message purportedly from one candidate’s campaign, but which actually originated with his opponent, as described in one of the links. And there is no democratic country in the world in which candidates for office do not attempt to influence the voter and steer his/her mind one way or the other.

    Ask yourself this, and I know you will answer honestly – if PARNAS had been allowed to stand for election, and had won – unaccountably, inexplicably and unexpectedly – do you think the U.S. Secretary of State would have announced that the result was suspect and the election not free and fair? Do you think the western media would have gone into a frenzy of finger pointing, and that GOLOS would have trotted out a list of election violations? I’m afraid I don’t. I’m afraid I believe such a result would have been hailed as the electoral equivalent of the Miracle On Ice, and PARNAS’s right to form a majority in the Duma energetically defended. The people would be said to have spoken.

    Only election results that bring the undesired outcome are disputed as frauds. The west wants to see the liberals empowered in Russia, this is above dispute. And they never have been, so every Russian election is condemned as rigged and dirty.

    Now the situation has become ridiculous, with demands for independent monitors to watch the monitors who are watching the international observers who are watching the electoral process. And even then the Kremlin will be said to have exercised undue influence through some kind of black magic or other – unless it loses.

  8. Eugene says:

    Mark,

    I asked myself as you suggested and I have no doubt that had PARNAS won ANY elections, HRC and US media would have hailed this as a triumph of democracy in Russia. I’m not so sure about GOLOS simply because Nemtsov & Co. are so widely hated even by their opposition peers, that Shibanova may take pleasure in pointing to voting irregularities.

    I accept your examples in their totality (I’m not so mean as to argue that the ability to hack voting machines doesn’t indicate any committed fraud), but I’m afraid we’re talking about conceptually different things. The absurdity of the American political system — and the voting process in particular — is obvious, and I’ll switch to this topic when I’m done with elections in Russia. However, there are certain rules. I know, I know…but gerrymandering is being used (and abused) by both parties, and soft money works equally well for the Republicans and Democrats.

    The situation in Russia, as I see it, is different. Yes, there are certain rules allowing two top country leaders openly campaign for UR; allowing governors, ministers and even president himself to run for the Duma without any intention to serve there; allowing people serve in election committees without disclosing their identity; allowing observers to be thrown out of the polling stations if the election officials dislike their behavior. And please note that very few Russians — especially those not belonging to “professional opposition” — challenged these rules. They just accepted them as a given.

    But when the authorities began breaking their own rules with acts of OPEN falsification — and I don’t want to discuss for the moment the extent of these falsifications — by stuffing ballot boxes, replacing voting protocols or using faked polling stations, that was just too much for some folks in Moscow, SP and other large cities. And when they protested, Putin went on the air and called them monkeys, condoms and paid foreign agents. As I already wrote, we’re past the stage of lack of trust in the election results; we’re at the stage of luck of trust in the authorities and the political system in general. And, yes, the polling agencies, too.

    Best,
    Eugene

    • marknesop says:

      It’s true that actual voter fraud in the USA is rare (unless it’s so good as to be undetectable), and also true that demonstrating machines can be easily hacked is no evidence that such is the actual case although exit polling in 2004 did not match vote tallies in some states that used voting machines. We seem to be in agreement that the battle for hearts and minds – where the greatest unfairness occurs, as the office in question is often “bought” by the candidate who spends the most money on advertising – takes place before the vote.

      But cases of the President campaigning for offices he has no intent of personally holding is far from unique to Russia. Bush regularly appeared in support of Republican candidates in Congressional elections, exhorting crowds to “vote for (insert name here); I need him/her to work with me in Congress”. If Putin said such things, it would be reported as an order to vote for his candidate. In reality, the national leader appearing in support of his party is routine.

      Also, I’ll reserve judgment on ballot-stuffing until I see some real evidence. I’m not saying none exists, but accounts such as Julia Ioffe’s reveal that she doesn’t even understand how the vote works, and is just reporting fraud because it’s either her job or her choice to do so. And there’s no doubt ballot-stuffing did not take place on such a scale that it influenced the outcome.

      • Eugene says:

        Mark,

        Very briefly as I’m about to begin watching the SuperBowl. Go Pats!!!

        Sure, Putin campaigning for UR is part of the rules. I’m more opposed to the practice of the so-called паровозы: when, say, Medvedev leads the UR party list and then gives his mandate to someone else. UR had about 45 regional lists led by such “lovomotives” (Sechin, Kozak, Zubkov, etc.).

        Ballot-stuffing is for training of the future heads of election offices:) The real fraud takes place at the stage of re-writing/replacing election protocols. Take a look;

        http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1857057

        “По данным выборочного исследования, в 10-15 процентах случаев наблюдатель, получив ночью копию только что составленного итогового протокола, наутро обнаруживает, что на официальном портале ЦИК РФ http://www.cikrf.ru цифры не те. Основная приписка всегда оказывается в пользу “Единой России.””

        Best,
        Eugene

  9. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    I see your diplomatic skills are being vigorously tested🙂

    A link for Sergei http://www.pravmir.ru/vybory-kak-eto-bylo-na-samom-dele-chast-1/ – a priest describing his election experiences.

    The mentioning of independent election data reminded me of this site http://bit.ly/zB6mLa

    Cheers

    PS (about comparison to American elections ) IMHO – if e.g. the upcoming Russian elections were only between Putin and Prokhorov, fraudulent or not , it would perhaps, be entertaining, but would not force people on the streets. And they would gladly trust “babushkas” in elect. comm..

    • Eugene says:

      Alex,

      My current favorite about the election “experience” is this:

      http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1857057

      You can often hear now: are you unhappy with the election results? Go to courts. This article is a nice narrative of what happens when you go to courts.

      Cheers,
      Eugene

      • Alex says:

        thanks, I’ll add it to my “selected”.

        The souls of Russian judges it seems are already in Paradise http://twitter.com/borovkova1 (судить меня будет только Бог) – one can only regret that their bodies somehow stuck on this planet..

        I wonder if the Russian legal system reform should be a replacement of judges with jury trials. At least when it comes to maintaining public order it is only the public who can decide what is appropriate.

        Cheers

  10. zed244Alex says:

    Eugene, you may want to fish my previous comment out of your spam filter!

  11. Sergey says:

    Eugene,
    On people who are tired of being treated like быдло. Regretfully, they are following the leaders who think the only way of elevating their followers is to humiliate the “others”. It’s not the way I was brought up in kindergarten. Nothing good will happen until we return to some common civic values. “Уважение к человеку” is something I take for granted in personal relations and would not communicate with people who fail on this ground, but I do fail to see it, time after time, in a liberal camp in Russia in the last twenty years. What’s the problem with these guys, do you know?

    On Kremlin control – I do believe the control is much less than you would imagine, especially of the press. In fact, almost entire writing class is in the Fronde now. (They are also proudly liberal, as contrasted to the population which is mostly leftist, which doesn’t prevent most journalist from appointing themselves to the the nation’s conscience. Just look at Parkhomenko who’s proudly describing media manipulations in 1996 and telling anyone that journalist shouldn’t be objective).

    Finally, a reflection on the whole discussion. You “know” elections were falsified – as do I. How important were they? Significantly less than in USA 2000, 2004, Ukraine 2004, perhaps Montenegro referendum of independence, IMHO (I’m in ‘less than 5% camp according to Anatoly, as you probably know). When do we stop “knowing” that elections results shouldn’t be trusted? That depends on priors and the data, and priors are as non-disputable as tastes. So if you do trust local elderly ladies in USA but not in Russia – that’s your prior. If you don’t trust FOM, Levada, VCIOM, TsIRKON, Bashkirova and partners, and the whole slate of others – it’s your prior. But you should realize that intelligent discussion is impossible until we talk about foundations of our beliefs and presumptions and take them into account.

  12. Eugene says:

    Sergey,

    I didn’t get your point about humiliating “others.” However, I do have a problem with the leaders of the protest movement, first of all, with Nemtsov & Co. (I know what the problem with them, but this is a subject of a separate conversation.) Yet, this doesn’t prevent me from sharing the outrage with the “followers.” Hopefully, sooner or later, they will find (grow) better leaders.

    On Kremlin control. The speed with which TV began showing anti-Putin protests and threw away “black lists” shows that the Kremlin control over the media was more self-imposed than real. Yet, if you deny the Kremlin’s control over the election process, then we’re seriously apart in our understanding of the situation.

    I’m not sure which irregularities in the US in 2004 you’re talking about, but I remember that many Democrats were saying after 2000 that GWB’s presidency was illegitimate. And that is exactly the problem with “knowing” that the election results can’t be trusted: that means that the Duma is illegitimate. (BTW, I already argued here that if you subtract even 3% from UR’s total count, they lose their simple majority — along with the speakership, majority of committees, etc. Peanuts, uh?) Now, if you add to the mix the president who in the mind of many citizens was also illegitimately elected, you’ve got a real problem.

    I trust old ladies in Russia even more than in the US. But in Russia, it not them who count votes. And not them who create fake polling stations as in Vladimir. And for as long as I see polling station producing protocols with 90% turnout and 90% vote for UR, I don’t trust the election process. Let’s fix this first, then we talk about polling agencies.

    Best,
    Eugene

  13. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    It seems to me that it is not a question of trust but a question of evidence..You have made a very big sweeping statement that the opinion poll agencies are controlled by the Kremlin and produce the numbers the Kremlin want them to and will do so when the Kremlin has decided what the margin of Putin’s victory will be. By your admission you have no evidence to support this claim but must rely instead on an inference drawn from a view of the Kremlin as some sort of octopus allegedly controlling everything.

    Can I just make a few observations?

    1. I have never denied the existence of fraud in the elections. On the contrary I have said that the result in Chechnya looks like a straightforward invention and that I find the results in the north Caucasian republics (including northern Ossetia) incredible. I accept too that there has probably been some fraud in other places such as in some of the ethnic republics. However the overall result does not seem to me to point to universal or systematic fraud with the bad results United Russia achieved in all sorts of places strongly suggesting the contrary. I do not want to go over again the same points but overall I go along with Anatoly’s view that the level of fraud was around 5%.

    2. Going further I would suggest that the election results themselves are strong evidence that the Kremlin does not control the election process in the way that you say. If the Kremlin does control the election process then it is going about it in a very peculiar way by presumably choosing to lose elections in all sorts of places many of which are important places that matter.

    3. In fact the pattern of fraud is surely more consistent with local officials making decisions independently of the Kremlin, which by the way makes the instruction to regional governors you mention in your article that the elections must be clean completely understandable.

    4. Anyway it does not seem to me that the level of fraud in the elections is evidence that the Kremlin controls the opinion poll agencies. On the contrary given that as I have said before much of the evidence of presumed fraud especially in Moscow comes from data provided by the opinion poll agencies the evidence is if anything against it/

    5. Speaking for myself I obviously do not have your knowledge of Russia or of Russian politicians and to my great loss and for all sorts of reasons I do not speak the language. However I have travelled to Russia regularly since 1998, I have many Russian friends especially in the business community but also in the theatre world and I do have some knowledge of the country.

  14. Sergey says:

    Eugene,
    On humiliating the others. I consider statements like “too many people on puting. so much bydlo we have” to be intentionally humiliating. I don’t know about yourself, but I do object to being called bydlo on the basis of my carefully considered vote being different thanhenewest conscience of the nation believes to be correct. Habit of calling such names started in “liberal” and
    “democratic” community at lest from 1993, or maybe even earlier. Funny you never noticed.

    On USA election in 2004. A quick google search will give you the corresponding Wiki page.

    On year 2000. Many democrats didn’t considered Bush legitimate, but republicans did and the country’s establishment did. In the end, democrats had to grind it and bear it – this is what happens when your side loses. This is part of life. Any election is fraudulent to some degree. There are always people for whom the results aren’t legitimate. If said people control major newspapers they let their disaffection known, otherwise you never hear about it. This inequality of acces is also part of life and has to be taken into account.

    I’ve red the Kommersant article with Oreshkin. Very entertaining. The problem is – he never justified his claim on 10-15% of frauds in sample studies. The one study we all know about is from Vedomosti which found 3% of such fraud in Moscow. I read another study which purported to show 8% fraud in Moscow using essentially the same database as in Vedomosti, but I know how they did it – by purging the sample of cases where observer’s copies corresponded to the TsIK data.

    Once again, you have your priors. The West didn’t think Ukraine 2004 or Georgian presidential elections were fraudulent because there were 90% voter participation, 90% “for” results. If this is what counts as clean, then Russian elections are as clean as they get in they post-soviet space. Or alternatively, if you don’t buy this argument, then any references to the clean western elections and attendant moms and pops should be suppressed.

  15. Pingback: Putin and the Polls |

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