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The Party Deadlock

Andrey Pertsev sums up the week (March 4−8)

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Russian sociological centres are publishing some of the last polls before the presidential elections. They do not promise any surprises. Vladimir Putin is going to win around 80 per cent of the vote, which is exactly what the presidential political bloc is aiming for. The intrigue for second place seems far-fetched: the «New People» party candidate Vladislav Davankov (he is expected to recieve 7.5% of the votes according to Russian Field, 6% according to VTsIOM) is 1−2% behind the Communist Nikolai Kharitonov (with 6.5% and 4% of the votes respectively). The leader of the LDPR, sociological services promise 3−4% of votes to Leonid Slutsky, which invariably means the last place. However, the gap between Slutsky and his rivals seems insignificant in absolute terms.

All these candidates are equally unpopular, and the situation with the difference between their ratings and the ratings of the parties that nominated them looks paradoxical. Davankov is an outlier in that sense: according to the Russian Field poll, his rating is slightly lower than that of the «New People» party (9% of the number of people who will vote in the Duma elections). According to the VTsIOM poll, Davankov’s rating is 0.2% higher than that of the party that nominated him. These figures are most likely explained by the fact that Davankov (and therefore the party that nominated him) attracted the situational attention of the anti-war electorate. This interest may disappear after the election, unless the «New People» party somehow manages to maintain it. A party that is pro-Kremlin in one way or another is unlikely to employ clear anti-war rhetoric, so its support group will «shake out» by a couple of per cent points. Meanwhile, for some voters (especially the supporters of opposition leader Maksim Kats among them) Davankov and the party that nominated him are a political tool to express their dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin and the war here and now. This strategy by a section of the opposition was quite predictable.

What came as a surprise, however, was the behaviour of the core voters of the Communist party and LDPR, who in recent years had been quite disciplined in voting for their party’s candidates. It should be noted that the systemic forces (especially the Communists) have gradually lost popularity due to a softening of their rhetoric towards the Kremlin and support for the most odious initiatives launched by the authorities. In addition, the CPRF has gradually become more vocal in its invocation of Stalin. On the other hand, these losses have left the parties with the strongest core of their electorate: loyal soldiers ready to support their favourite political force under any circumstances. Slutsky’s and Kharitonov’s ratings show that the veteran parties are unable to mobilise even their core supporters. According to the Russian Field pollsters, only a third of the citizens who support the LDPR are ready to vote for Slutsky (the party’s rating is 13% of the voters who would go to the polls if the Duma elections were held next Sunday), while only half of the CPRF voters will vote for Kharitonov. The situation can be described as follows: the core electorate still supports the party brands, but it is no longer mobilised by the will of the leadership in the way that the core electorate should be. The LDPR is still animated/propelled forward by its late leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, while the CPRF is driven by communist ideology and nostalgia for the USSR. Yet the party’s candidates are no longer dragged along by this inertia. Zhirinovsky’s admirers have no intention of supporting Leonid Slutsky, who was placed at the helm of the LDPR at the Kremlin’s behest. Communists are not ready to tick the box for Kharitonov just because he was imposed on them as a candidate by the CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov. Of course, charismatic candidates will win in single-mandate constituencies, but there are few of them in the CPRF and even fewer still in the LDPR.

The poor showing of Slutsky and Kharitonov will further demotivate the Communists and the Zhirinovites, and the erosion of the nuclear electorate of the «old parties» will continue. They will not last long on empty brand energy, so we are likely to see extremely weakened factions of the CPRF and LDPR in the next State Duma (and we may not any LDPR MPs at all).

Campaign deadlock

The political bloc of the presidential administration has set itself the difficult task of showing Vladimir Putin a record-high election result (80 per cent) with a reasonably high turnout (around 70 per cent). The presidential administration has the ability to mobilise businesses and households, multi-day voting, and electronic voting, all of which will help to ensure the necessary turnout and a high percentage of votes cast for Putin. The president’s weakened set of sparring partners works for his record result, but works against a high turnout. As we have written above, even the core constituencies of the old systemic parties do not want to go to the polling stations. Loyalists are in no hurry to participate in the elections either: they realise that there is no threat to the incumbent’s victory. Of course, most of them fall under various types of mobilisation and will vote anyway. However, the more independent loyalists or «lazy» mobilisers, who would rather mind their own business than bother going to the voting stations, are becoming a problem for the presidential administration, because the record figure of support has to come from somewhere. The political bloc is trying to solve this problem with a plethora of motivational videos on the Internet. Voters are called to the polls with clips from the popular TV series «The Boy’s Word» (at the same time, this gang ethics dictates that «street-smart boys» should avoid participating in state affairs). They are again frightened by the possible rise to power of the LGBTQ, or by the fact that other people will vote for them for the sake of something absurd.

These motivational videos only reach the politicised segment of the public and make them laugh, not go to the polling stations. Putin’s set of sparring partners is so weak that the attempt to paint some imaginary threats to motivate the voters is confusing. There is simply no candidate to attach this negativity to: there is no «approved liberal» running in the elections, and there is no dangerous dark horse (like the CPRF candidate Pavel Grudinin used to be in 2018) on the ballot paper. Scaremongering is rife and can be counterproductive, turning the voter turnout campaign into a carnival of cringe-worthy propaganda that no one wants to be associated with.

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