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.