Sergey Bespalov

FRF Senior Fellow

Aug 19, 2021
Monitoring the Pre-Election Situation in Russia: Fourth issue

Party approval ratings

The data below has been provided by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) and the National Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM).

Not much has changed in party approval ratings, though it is noteworthy that VTsIOM has recoded the approval for Putin’s United Russia at its lowest point in years, at 27.2%. The same polling service has recorded a slight uptick in the approval for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), which is now at 16%, one of its best showings in years.

More interestingly, the combined approval for all of the parties that have been able to break the 5% barrier is higher than that for United Russia. The approval for CPRF, LDPR, and SR together is over 32%, compared to United Russia’s 27.2%. The approval for non-parliamentary parties is also at its highest point since the campaign period began in June of this year—14.2%.

Thus, we can conclude that majority of Russians who plan to vote in the upcoming elections will vote against United Russia.

Neither of Russia’s two major polling agencies gage party disapproval ratings. However, it has been done by the Social Research Foundation, which is close to the CPRF (and whose data reliability has been confirmed by a CPRF source).  The party disapproval ratings were as follows: United Russia–35%, Yabloko–24%, LDPR–20%, CPRF–15%. Disapproval ratings for other parties is below 10%.

Based on this, we can conclude the following:

  1. United Russia cannot improve its voter approval ratings before the end of elections.
  2. Yabloko cannot breach the 5% threshold.

Candidate Registration

1. United Russia’s federal candidate list was the last to be registered by the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC). This event has not been publicized on the CEC website or in any official CEC press releases. An official press statement announced that the second to last list from the New People party had been registered, and then that registration had concluded for all party lists. There was no additional statement on the number of United Russia candidates, or even what party was registered after New People. It seems that the CEC is attempting to keep the fact of the United Russia’s registration quiet, in order to avoid inciting people to head to the polls and vote against it in the elections (particularly within the context of scandals over opposition candidates being eliminated from the election).

2. Three highly-popular candidates continue challenging the refusal to register them in single-mandate districts. In Khabarovsk, Anton Furgal, the son of jailed governor Sergei Furgal, is contesting allegations of irregularities in voter signatures. The challenge is being reviewed by the Khabarovsk District Court, which is standard procedure for registration appeals in federal elections. Roman Yuneman (Moscow) and Lev Schlossberg (Yabloko) are also disputing rejection of their registration applications, which was based on ties to Alexei Navalny.

Election finance

The election financing data is available on the CEC website:

http://cikrf.ru/analog/ediny-den-golosovaniya-2021/kategorii-viborov/vibori-deputatov-gosdumi/finansirovanie-vyborov/svedeniya-o-postuplenii-sredstv-v-izbiratelnye-fondy-politicheskikh-partiy-i-raskhodovanii/

The biggest news here is that between August 5-12, four of Russia’s main parties did not deposit a single ruble into their campaign accounts!

Moreover, even the paltry sum received from sponsors prior to August 5 has not been spent. By August 12, United Russia had only spent 200 million out of its 700 million rubles; CPRF had spent 106 million out of 117 million; LDPR had spent 200 million out of 680 million; and A Just Russia had spent 115 out of 134 million.

If we divide the total amount spent by parties among Russia’s 104 million voters, that means that the four parliamentary parties have spent approximately 6 rubles (or USD 10 cents) per voter. This means that the campaigning during the early stages of the election season has been abysmal. Citizens have been exposed to no campaigning from the political parties running in the elections.

The fact that the parties have not been actively replenishing their accounts means that they have not been fundraising among their supporters, and only big business and prominent donors linked to the parties are actually providing financing. This is likely part of the plan to suppress voter turnout. Perhaps the greatest motivation to get out and vote is financial support for a party, but the parties do not need that support. The Kremlin strictly controls campaign fundraising to ensure that no one receives additional resources for campaigning or attracting new supporters.

Assessing the competition

The Golos movement has published a media monitoring report for the eighth week of the campaign. Media campaigning opens on the morning of August 20, so the report is primarily focused on news coverage of the campaign, which has not been funded by parties or candidates. The report is available on the Golos website:
https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391

The main takeaway from the eighth week of the campaign (August 9-15) is that the news coverage of the elections continues to grow, having reached a new peak of 288.8 minutes, though coverage of the parties and candidates made up less than 58% of that time— 166.5 minutes. Two-thirds of that coverage was dedicated to one party—United Russia. United Russia has been mentioned in the news more than all other parties combined and has received approximately twice the amount of coverage as others. 

The number of political parties represented on national television channels suddenly dropped this week. With the exception of a single report on Ren-TV about the Pensioners’ Party, TV audiences are only seeing the coverage of the “parliamentary four” and New People. Other parties were not mentioned at all.

The only party that received negative coverage during this period (approximately 35%, compared to 65% positive coverage) was, as usual, the CPRF. Other parties mentioned in the news received over 80% positive coverage. As a result, this week’s “positive rating” was the highest of the campaign.

Between August 9-15, nearly all messages related to the parties and elections in general were positive. CPRF was the stark exception to this, and approximately one-third of its coverage was negative. More specifically, that coverage, broadcast by Ren-TV, was devoted to the court case against a CPRF candidate Pavel Grudinin (party leader Gennady Zyuganov issued a statement that the CPRF would be appealing the decision).

Approximately 20% of coverage of A Just Russia—For Truth was neutral, and the rest was positive. Slightly less than 4% of the coverage of LDPR was neutral, as was about 2.5% of the coverage of United Russia. New People and the Pensioners’ Party were leading this week with a 100% positive coverage. This means that the “positive rating” has risen for the second week in a row, which is likely driven by the desire to avoid inciting protests and to ensure that citizens who are dissatisfied with the campaigns do not get extra motivation to go out and vote.

Campaign progress

During the past week, parties running in the campaign issued several statements which shed light on their electoral positions. The statements collected by the Petersburg Politics Foundation during the eighth week of the campaign include:

UNITED RUSSIA. Announced it was against mandatory vaccination for college students (Elena Shmeleva).

LDPR. Suggested auctioning off “vanity” license plates (Alexandr Sherin).

A JUST RUSSIA. Addressed Vladimir Putin and suggested firing Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Alexandr Kozlov in connection to the widespread forest fires raging in Yakutia (Fedot Tumusov).

YABLOKO. In Ulan-Ude, announced nine proposals for saving Lake Baikal (Nikolai Rybakov).

NEW PEOPLE. Called for exempting businesses from taxes on profits, VAT, and insurance premiums, and instead introducing a flat tax rate of 5% (Alexei Nechaev).

GROWTH PARTY. Suggested creating a list of websites and services that cannot be blocked by the government, including YouTube, Google, Instagram, Facebook, Wikipedia, TikTok, Telegram, WhatsApp, Booking, Amazon, Twitter, Zoom, and Skype (Irina Mironova).

RUSSIAN PENSIONERS’ PARTY FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. Held a symposium in Yaroslav to discuss ways to reduce rent (Andrei Shirokov).

RODINA. Expressed concern that the Russian language is being suppressed in Kazakhstan which is  “heading down the same dirty path as in Ukraine” (Alexei Zhuravlev).

GREENS. Proposed allowing electric and hybrid cars to use separate lanes, and to rent out new homes already equipped with electric chargers (Andrei Nagibin).

Overall, the various party initiatives are a pale imitation of what one would expect during campaign period; they do not earnestly seek to increase approval ratings or voter turnout.

“Smart Voting” Update

There have been three notable developments in the Smart Voting campaign.

  1. Alexei Navalny addressed voters on social media from his jail, urging them to join the Smart Voting campaign and explaining the reasons behind that campaign. Any statements from Navalny himself receive more views than those from Navalny’s organization FBK.
  2. FBK announced a new platform for donations. Within just a few days, the new site had approximately the same number of donors signed up as the “old” FBK site.
  3. A CPRF public opinion poll was published online (though the poll data was not published on the websites, CPRF sources confirm its authenticity) which, since April 2021, has included a column for a hypothetical “Navalny Party”. This “party” is popular with 10% of voters (the poll was conducted nationwide). Thus, we have a reliable, though indirect data on the potential numbers of Russian voters who support the Smart Voting campaign. Previously, we only had results from 2020 polls, based on mathematical analysis of local elections in St. Petersburg, which estimated Smart Voting can add a 7-9% boost in votes to certain candidates. This also leads us to conclude that the number of potential “smart voters” has grown over the last year.

Regional elections and other notable developments

Major background political events included: 1. forest fires in Yakutia, which have been finally recognized as a national disaster; 2. plane crashes—three Russian Air Force planes have crashed in the last two weeks; 3. the change of power in Afghanistan, and ensuing debates over the relationship between Russian leaders and the Taliban, which is simultaneously classified as an outlawed terrorist organization in Russia and is engaged in formal negotiations with the Russian Foreign Ministry. Additionally, the courts have begun announcing verdicts against Alexei Navalny supporters. Lyubov Sobol (who has recently left the country) and Kira Yarmish have been issued prison sentences. In the coming weeks, Alexei Vorsin and Oleg Stepanov are expected to be sentenced.

There has been a heavy media coverage of police showing up at the homes of approximately 500 Navalny supporters around the country and asking them to submit depositions against him, demanding that police investigate his alleged theft of funds donated by Russian citizens to FBK or Navalny’s headquarters.

Regional elections campaigns have not had any significant influence on the course of federal elections. One notable exception is the refusal to register Anton Furgal as a gubernatorial candidate in Khabarovsk. The younger Furgal stirs up local residents, and his running forces voters to remember what happened to his father, and think about how to vote in Khabarovsk gubernatorial elections.

Announcements for the next two weeks

Media campaigning begins on August 19.

Links to sources

https://media.fom.ru/fom-bd/d312021.pdf

https://wciom.ru/ratings/reiting-politicheskikh-partii/

https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391

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