Putin and the Polls

The head of staff of Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign, Stanislav Govorukhin, gave yet another interview, where he predicted that his candidate will win in the first (March 4) round of the election with “at least 60% of the vote.”  Just a couple of weeks ago, Govorukhin considered a possibility of the second round.  Not anymore: referring to “more information” in his possession (he didn’t elaborate), Govorukhin insisted that everything will be settled on March 4.

Govorukhin seems to have a point: all three major Russian polling agencies — FOM, Levada Center, and VTSIOM – forecast Putin’s straightforward victory.  When undecided voters and those not intended to vote are subtracted, the percentage of respondents willing to vote for Putin vary between 59 % and 67%.

Given my stated distrust in FOM, Levada and VTSIOM, I attempted to come up with my own estimate of Putin’s electability – using the 2010 census data taken from a recent Vedomosti article.  According to the data, 44 million Russians live in large cities with the population of more than half-million (Group A); 75 million live in small towns and in the countryside (Group B); and 25 million live in underdeveloped regions including the “national enclaves,” such as Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia (Group C).  Roughly 63% of Russians are registered voters.

I made a number of assumptions — and I strongly encourage the readers of this post to try theirs.  I assumed that the percentage of voters voting for Putin will be 45% in Group A, 60% in Group B and 75% in Group C; I also assumed a uniform turnover of 70% for all three groups.  With these assumptions in place, the total vote for Putin would be 58% (36.8 million votes per 63.4 of those who had voted), which is reasonably close to other predictions.  Naturally, this number will go up if, say, in Group C the reported turnover will be higher than 70%: for example, a 90% turnover would increase the total vote for Putin to almost 62%.  In my scheme, in order for Putin to get less than 50% of the vote, he should poll no more than 50% in Group B – and I can’t go lower here – and no more than 32-33% in Group A.  The last number might be true for Moscow and St. Petersburg (and, perhaps, Novosibirsk), but hardly for the group in general — given the fact that Putin’s personal popularity is still reasonably high and definitely higher than that of the United Russia party.  Therefore, with all due reservations about my assumptions, I estimate Putin’s “real” electability being in the 55%-60% range.

One can often hear a rhetoric question: if Putin is so genuinely popular, why would he not compete and win in completely honest elections?  The answer is rather simple: Putin’s election campaign team just doesn’t know how to run honest elections.  (It’s like asking a producer of nasty TV negative ads to write a polite concession speech.)  They can only operate with the heavy use of the notorious “administrative resource.”  Besides, they are not interested in the election process; their God is the election results.  Those are planned in advance and then enforced by delivering appropriate target numbers to regional authorities.  Otherwise, how would one explain the fact that in the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008 Putin and Medvedev got essentially the same percentage of the vote (71% and 70%)?

Regardless of what Putin could have won in completely clean and fair elections, the final tally will only reflect what his election team will be capable of producing.  Two competing trends seem to be currently at play.  One the one hand, Putin is supposed to win in the first round of the vote with the result ideally approaching the 71% of the vote he collected in 2004 – to buttress Putin’s image of a “national leader” and re-insure the elites in his ability to protect their privileged political and economic interests in the future.  One the other hand, Putin’s victory should ideally give his critics no serious ground for questioning the legitimacy of the election, thus depriving the opposition of any reason to continue street protests.  The difficult compromise is likely to be found by maximally reducing the election fraud in Moscow and other large cities – where election observers will stand fully prepared to spot voting violations — and by making up the “balance” in province and “national enclaves” where the control of the election process is traditionally weak, if existing at all.

During his recent public appearances, Putin stressed his desire to have completely clean and unbiased election.  Yet, he can’t be so naïve not to know that the System he’s helped create over the past 12 years has gone out of his control.  The truck he started and set in motion doesn’t respond anymore to his timid attempts to steer the wheel.  No doubt, Putin will become the next President of Russia, yet, ironically, he may never know how many people actually voted for him on March 4.

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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36 Responses to Putin and the Polls

  1. Therefore, with all due reservations about my assumptions, I estimate Putin’s “real” electability being in the 55%-60% range.

    I agree with that range. (My own prediction was 60%, assuming some fraud but less than in 2011).

    Govorukhin is making a simple and easily explainable mistake – forgetting to subtract 5% from the opinion poll results in order to account for the relative passivity of Putin’s voters.

    A month or two ago, a second round was indeed feasible, because Putin’s predicted results (non-adjusted) hovered in the early to mid 50%’s (FOM). Since then, they have risen to 60%-65%. He must simply have looked at the more recent ones since.

    Otherwise, how would one explain the fact that in the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008 Putin and Medvedev got essentially the same percentage of the vote (71% and 70%)?

    Well that’s an easy question. Putin is innately more popular than Medvedev, but counterbalancing that is the fact that Russians were at a high point in terms of general state popularity around 2008 (the economy was at the very peak of its boom then).

    The difficult compromise is likely to be found by maximally reducing the election fraud in Moscow and other large cities – where election observers will stand fully prepared to spot voting violations — and by making up the “balance” in province and “national enclaves” where the control of the election process is traditionally weak, if existing at all.

    Possibly. But the most egregious forms of cheating will become much more difficult this time round. The web cameras project has been bally-hoed from all corners, but thanks to them we will know the real turnout at 95% of stations. Chechens might still give 99% of their votes to Putin, but at least faking a 99% turnout will become totally impossible.

    • Eugene says:

      Thanks Anatoly,

      I’m not buying your explanation on Putin/Medvedev. Putin always was more popular than Medvedev: before the 2008 election and after. (I perfectly understand why Russian would prefer “свой парень в доску” Putin to bookish Medvedev, a son of professor.) And then — all of sudden — Medvedev got as popular as Putin in just a few weeks preceding the vote? Even more curiously: he got as popular as Putin…still one tiny percent less. What a remarkable precision!

      On cameras. Ideally, yes. Moreover, they can even potentially spot the notorious “карусель,” as you can possibly recognize the same face(s) at different precincts. The key word here is “ideally:” let’s first see how many cameras will actually work and how many of them will be blocked by, say, hanging a jacket on them.

      Besides, the Duma elections showed that it’s the “white-color” election fraud (fiddling with protocols) that does the most of fixing — as opposed to low-skill stuff like throwing in bulletins into the ballot boxes. This fact is being recognized by the observers who focus on preserving the original protocols.


      • Eugene, I disagree, and I will try to explain why.

        There is a close correlation between Putin’s popularity, and Medvedev’s (post-original Putin endorsement for President, pre-Putin announcing his return; = Putin MINUS 5-10%) and general government popularity (= Putin MINUS 15%-25%). 2008 was the historical popularity peak for all three, understandably so because the economy was doing better than it has ever done before or since.

        Putin’s approval (Levada) in early 2004 was 78%-82% (which translated into a 71% victory, i.e. -10%). His approval in early 2008 was at almost 90%, which should have translated into a high 70%’s or 80% victory by the same method. The fact that it was Medvedev running – and given also Medvedev’s iron tendency to lag Putin by 5%-10% (the gap was closer to 10% early on) – knocked it down by another 10% or so, to 70%.

        HAD Putin run for President in 2008 (assuming there was no law against it), then he’d have gotten 75%-80%, i.e. more than Medvedev.

        So as you can see the 71%-70% results are perfectly explainable through logic, there is no reason to bring complex theories about the regime fixing the results specifically to demonstrate Putin’s symbolic superiority to Medvedev into it.

        Now granted IF Putin were to win 70% or 71% or more in 2012, I will take your theory much more seriously! 😉

  2. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    You might be right with your real % , but .. I feel that real Putin’s vote in not-so-big cities is lower than your data.
    Your prediction on how the vote will be adjusted this time, again, I agree, but …they will try to do that, sure, but this “system” demonstrated its astounding debility so many times recently, that I suspect they will screw it up – as usual..
    Hm.. the latter is probably, why I am worried about Russia – not so much that the Government is “bad” – any Government is and will be – but that the Russian one became demonstrably stupid…


    • Eugene says:

      Hi Alex,

      I’m afraid I didn’t get your last line — not that I need further proof of any government’s stupidity, though:)

      Well, that what is really troubling with my assumptions: I don’t really know how correct they are. My idea was that Group B voted about 50% for United Russia and then I added a 10% premium for Putin’s personal popularity and the election campaign effect.


  3. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    You will not I am sure by surprised in the light of our previous discussions if I tell you that I have problems with this.

    if I understand you correcly what you are basically saying is that Putin & Co are busy working hard to rig the vote in order to get basically the same result they would have got if they had not rigged it. This does seem to me very complicated. Is it not altogether easier and frankly more realistic to think that if Putin gets a result in line with your calculations (as seems likely) that is because notwithstanding any problems with the vote he has not in the end rigged it?

    PS: If I have misread or misunderstood your article forgive me.

  4. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    What I’m saying is this: Putin & Co (primarily & Co: I don’t think that Putin gets too deep in the day-to-day campaign operations) know what they want — in line with the compromise between a “good-looking” number and the lack of evidence of widespread fraud. I also assume — however can’t be 100% sure here — that Volodin & Co run multiple “closed” polls of their own to gauge Putin’s REAL public support. Depending on the numbers they get in these polls, they plan how to use the ready-to-go machine created over the years.

    If the real numbers are close to their target, the “correction” will be minimal — as it happened in 2004 when Putin’s popularity was genuinely high. However, if the numbers are dangerously low, there is going to be serious “intervention” as it happened in December.

    My major point is that the number announced by Churov on March 5 may be lower, higher or exactly the same as Putin really got on March 4, but it still will be the “target” number. That’s my understanding of how this system works.

    Best Regards,

    • Again, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree.

      Statistical methods of fraud detection cannot give exact figures, but they’re very good for COMPARATIVE analyses. And they indicate that fraud across the Duma elections in 2007 and 2011 were similar, or that 2007 actually had slightly more fraud.

      Needless to say, United Russia was in much less need of upping its results in 2007 than in 2011, so by your logic fraud in 2011 should have been much bigger. But this was not the case.*

      * To pre-empt a possible objection. You might ask, why in that case were there no significant post-elections protests in 2007? Good question. Mostly, I think it was a combination of (1) far more Internet, cell phones, etc. by 2011, and (2) while the scale of fraud nationally was similar, fraud in 2011 was far more egregious in Moscow in particular, where the liberals are concentrated.

      My major point is that the number announced by Churov on March 5 may be lower, higher or exactly the same as Putin really got on March 4, but it still will be the “target” number. That’s my understanding of how this system works.

      AFAIK Churov is largely irrelevant to the process. All the CEC does is add up the numbers from the local electoral commissions. Fraud occurs at the levels of polling stations (e.g. many in Moscow) and regional electoral commissions (e.g. Chechnya, South Ossetia, Mordovia), not the CEC itself. For an example of an electoral system where results are centrally falsified by executive command see Belarus.

      • Alex says:

        ..and who did the “fraudulent” polling stations get their target numbers from? (mind you, I don’t think that they got it from Putin, but if not from Churov & Co then from whom? )

        • Eugene says:

          I think that the numbers come from the campaign (Volodin), and the bulk of the job falls on the regional governors (who’re mostly UR members). This allows the Center to distance itself if something goes wrong. But it’s Churov who makes sure that the process of collecting the numbers goes well. For example, in the December elections, the CEC rejected at least one TIK protocol that looked plain cooked.

      • Eugene says:

        Sure, Churov doesn’t “create” fraud. His job is not to see it.

        As for why the protests were more intense in 2011, my explanation is simple: the announcement that Putin is running again was the last straw. At least, it was for me:)

  5. marknesop says:

    And I reiterate my point that any country but Russia could afford a mistake – a presidential term by a complete know-nothing who talked a good game and got elected for a single term before the electorate wised up and voted him/her out. Not Russia. There are so many agencies committed to its destruction and which are constantly probing for a weakness; this was illustrated in the western pressure on Yeltsin to make reforms with blurring speed in order to stay ahead of knowledge of what was happening, and to ensure Russia could never retrace its steps. That turned out to be a good call, although any benefit to Russia was likely incidental, because the Soviet Union was an unsustainable model anyway. But the aim was plainly not to build Russia up into a prosperous powerhouse, but to loot and ruin it.

    That aim, at its core, has not changed. Obviously it’s not “only Putin” who can prevent Russia’s enemies from dragging her down, because Putin can’t last forever – and despite all the nonsense about his proclaiming himself leader forever, he has yet to do anything that is against the rules to remain in power. But I don’t see anyone but Putin right now. His opponents who are not liberals are nuts, and those that are liberals are narcissists or western standard-bearers. None of them have the self-discipline or stubborn determination of Putin.

    • Eugene says:

      Hi Mark,

      Having lost (almost) all my hair (which wasn’t red in the first place), I didn’t think I could compete for your attention:)

      Rotation at the top echelons of power is a good tradition in itself, occasional — and perfectly correctable — mistakes notwithstanding. Besides, I don’t understand why when talking about “no alternatives to Putin,” one always compares him to his current opponents. What about Medvedev? So far, no one from pro-Putin camp has explained me what Putin can do better than Medvedev. Besides, let’s go back to 2007 and take a look at the list of other potential “successors.” Couple of names from this list stand out: Kozak and Khloponin. Why not try them? They are perfectly efficient and self-disciplined. Kozak even looks stubborn to me:)

      As for “agencies committed” to Russia’s destruction, I heard about them many times. If they do exist, it’s time to start calling them by names.


  6. marknesop says:

    Good Afternoon, Zhenya; yes, I noticed a distinct difference in forehead gain between your gravatar now and the devil-may-care rake in the photo that used to head your column. Never mind; the power of your conviction remains undiminished, and your present appearance is one of dignity and reason. Eugene Mk. 1 looked like someone who might be induced into a night of footloose drinking that might see him wake up in Budapest in a full-body cast, scrawled with the drunken witticisms of his previous night’s companions. Eugene Mk. 2 looks more statesmanlike; dare I say, incorruptible.

    I don’t see any problems with Kozak or Khloponin, in terms of efficiency and self-discipline. However, both are perceived to be close allies of Putin, and I was under the impression you wanted a change. Nearly every press clipping that mentions Dmitry Kozak observes that he is a “close Putin ally”, and many note that he headed Putin’s presidential election team in 2004. As well as being a business partner of Mikhail Prokhorov, Kholoponin was personally endorsed for governor of Krasnoyarsk – and appointed acting governor – by none other than Vladimir Putin. If simply a new face who would govern essentially like Putin would do the trick, I withdraw my objection. I would just observe, though, that if someone who governs like Putin and is perceived to be a disciple of Putinism will serve, it might as well BE Putin, who has considerable experience already in governing like Putin.

    Here’s a partial list of agencies committed to Russia’s destruction as an independent state under a non-aligned government: The Rand Corporation, The Council on Foreign Relations, The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Jamestown Foundation, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Hoover Institution, The Manhattan Institute, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Chatham House, Transparency International, Freedom House, The National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute. By this I do not mean their daily work is comprised of inveigling against Russia or that they talk of nothing else. I mean that if they were offered the choice between helping Russia without trying to change it to suit themselves, or setting it on the path to ruin, they would choose to set it on the path to ruin; that, moreover, they would and do apply uneven standards and pass along unsubstantiated gossip as if it were fact in the pursuit of that goal.

  7. Eugene says:


    Yes, I do want change. However, I never had any problem with a “change from inside.” For me, Putin’s decision to step down in 2008 — to follow the letter and, as I believed back then, the spirit of the Constitution — was an indication that Russia was going down the road of the establishment of institutions, rather than creation of a one-man-based pseudo-monarchy. Having “close Putin ally” at the top is not the same as having Putin himself. Besides, even “close Putin ally” can point to a different direction — think Kudrin. Even Medvedev, “close Putin ally,” attempted to conduct some reforms. Yes, he did — otherwise, he wouldn’t have been ousted in a quiet coup. Now, instead of a gradual movement to institutional reforms — with Medvedev, Khloponin, Kozak or whoever at the helm — you’ve got a polarized country with millions of people claiming “Russia without Putin!” And you understand what they mean by “without Putin:” no prisoners will be taken. Don’t you think that too high of a price is being paid for the sake of such “stability?”

    Sure, I have no doubt that there are nuts in the mentioned by you institutions who want to destroy Russia, as there are nuts in Russia wanting to destroy the U.S., Georgia, Baltics, etc. Are these people influential? Sure. Do these people have means to articulate their views? Sure. Do these people define U.S. policy towards Russia? No. Are there people in the Obama administration wanting to destroy Russia? No. I even know the reason why people who want to destroy Russia won’t define U.S. foreign policy for quite a while. This reason can be defined by one single word. Yes, you’ve already guessed it: China.


    p.s. Mark, your first para made my day. Not day, the whole weekend. The fact is that the first photo was made by my wife during a peaceful duo trip to Lausanne. The second was taken at a party in Russian restaurant in Boston.

    p.s.s. Thanks for calling me incorruptible. As cynical Russians would say, name your price 🙂

    • marknesop says:

      “Are there people in the Obama administration wanting to destroy Russia? No.”

      I beg to differ. I can name three without even resorting to Google; Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton. Here’s Samantha Power, in “A Question of Honor”;

      “Russia is not alone in believing that amassing military strength or using violence helps restore self-respect and honor. Osama bin Laden has rallied young Muslims to his terrorist ranks by invoking Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Muslim detainees degraded by their American guards. Ahmed Al Haznawi, one of the 9/11 hijackers, made a video before the attack in which he declared, “The time of humiliation is over.”
      On occasion, Western countries have consciously avoided humiliating militant powers, fearing the consequences of emasculation.”

      Got that? America can take anybody, any time. We just don’t, because hurting their feelings could have consequences. And Russia is supposedly “amassing military strength” at a time when its military has never been smaller, while America’s has never been larger – its defense budget having almost doubled in a decade.


      I particularly enjoyed the crack about Osama bin Laden, since he has always been a Russian enemy but was once an American ally.

      Here’s Susan Rice, in post-veto remarks; “I think the people of Syria and the people of the region have had today the opportunity to determine who among us stand with the people of the region in their quest for a better future, and who will go to whatever lengths are necessary to defend dictators who are on the warpath.”

      That’s the same Susan Rice who said of Ghadaffi’s denials that he was repressing his own citizens (that’s what you call responding to an internal rebellion when you want that rebellion to succeed) that he was “frankly, delusional”. Now the same is being said about Assad, although the Arab League’s Observer Mission reported that the violence was mostly the work of “armed groups” in Syria and not government forces. When questioned on American support for the debacle in Libya and how it relates to Syria, she said it was not about Libya, it was about “who wants to sell Syria weapons”. The United States is the world’s largest arms dealer by a wide margin.

      Hillary Clinton famously commented that Putin had no soul, and is an energetic defender of Georgia and its crackpot dictator, Mikheil Saakashvili.

      I guess I could support a Russian government led by a Putin disciple – not that it matters, since I neither live in Russia or have a vote there. But when people shout “Russia without Putin”, I hear “Russia without the man who saved her from collapse and restored her to a world power”.

      Seems a little ungrateful to me. But maybe that’s just the way people are.

      • Eugene says:


        Samantha is a known hot-head, but in August 2008, she wasn’t member of the administration ans was free to talk any trash she wanted. As for Rice, many people called her language vis-a-vis Russia extremely undiplomatic. Was this language approved by HRC? No doubt. But with all due respect, being unhappy with Russia’s position on Syria — or any other issues — isn’t the same as wanting to destroy Russia.


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  8. Alex says:

    @Mark “I hear “Russia without the man who saved her from collapse and restored her to a world power.Seems a little ungrateful to me.”.
    I wonder what would happen to eg. building industry if all builders insisted on their right to live in the houses their built for others until their death….
    Whatever Putin could have done – he had done many years ago. Some thing he did were good, some were not. But he won’t build anything better.

      • marknesop says:

        I have yet to hear any plans from the opposition to build anything. Their plan consists of beating Putin.

        Okay; then what?

        Zyuganov even offers to put Navalny in government. If that’s not pandering, I don’t know what you’d call it.

        • Eugene says:


          Kommersant published short election campaign theses by all 5 candidates (and fill-text versions are naturally available at respective websites):


          Feel free to criticize or even ridicule any of them but Putin’s, but saying that Putin’s opponents haven’t proposed anything is unfair.


          • marknesop says:

            Yes, sorry; I know they all have a published manifesto – it’s probably a requirement. Still, thanks for the easy access. But what I meant is that nobody ever talks about their plan for the country; all they talk about is how evil Putin is and how he needs a beating. I’m sorry, but that seems very negative to me. Even the crazy Republicans (present company excepted) are not reluctant to talk about their plans; they’re going to repeal “Obamacare”, and Newt Gingrich is going to establish a colony on the moon, to name just two examples.

            Putin talks all the time about reforms and quotas to be achieved for reducing undesirable realities. You could argue that he doesn’t actually do anything toward achieving those goals, although I would say that was unfair, but I don’t hear any plans from his opponents – just talk about how Putin has ruined the country and how any more Putinism will lead to stagnation. Also, Putin has already proved he can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

            According to recent articles in business magazines, Russia is going to have to make a choice between spending a lot of money on its oil industry to keep it viable, or on social programs to quell protest, but it probably can’t do both. I’d be very interested to hear how the opposition intends to make Russia a prosperous, vital dynamo (they must, in order to better Putin’s performance) without being able to rely on huge profits from the oil industry. That’s if the suggestions are true, and they may not be: we’ve all heard “Russia is running out of oil” stories before and they have turned out to be wishful thinking.

            • Eugene says:


              As it often happens in our discussions, in the end we get pretty close in our respective positions. I agree with you that Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and Mironov don’t break any new ground. First, they are incapable of doing this; second, they know they’d never win. So their campaigns serves their own parochial goals: for Zyuganov and Mironov — to stay in power in their respective parties; for Zhirinovsky — to transfer LDPR to his son. Of course, you can blame them for impotence, but years of “managed democracy” can’t be erased. They’re yesterday.

              Prokhorov is somewhat different. He (potentially) has a future in politics, and although I don’t like his program — to my taste, it’s eclectic and amorphous — he kind of runs a “positive” campaign. And please note: he almost never criticizes Putin. Answering your last question, Prokhorov has a solution: extensive privatization.


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  11. Caballeroz says:

    Wait a while to make sure any payment claers.Unfortunately, Russia is known for online scams.Ebay/Paypal will even reverse stuff on you too.If it is not shipping to the billing address, cancel the order and refund any monies. If you ship it, use FedEx (or UPS which is a bit cheaper) and request signature delivery. DO NOT use the post office. It will take forever and could get lost.Jamericanl]Wait a while to make sure any payment claers.Unfortunately, Russia is known for online scams.Ebay/Paypal will even reverse stuff on you too.If it is not shipping to the billing address, cancel the order and refund any monies. If you ship it, use FedEx (or UPS which is a bit cheaper) and request signature delivery. DO NOT use the post office. It will take forever and could get lost.Jamerican Steve] 0Was this answer helpful?

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