The dynamics of party ratings
Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) and Russian Public Opinion Research Center(VTsIOM) have just released the results of recent polls.
Approval for Putin’s party — United Russia — is estimated to be near its lowest levels in months.
According to VTsIOM, United Russia’s approval rating is at 28.3%, the lowest in the last four months.
FOM is somewhat more optimistic, at 31%, but we must keep in mind that traditionally, United Russia’s approval ratings with FOM have been about 2-3% higher than VTsIOM, and this is still the lowest level of party approval seen in the last two to three months.
This consistently low approval rating may be not only due to objective factors, such as the economic crisis, the pandemic crisis, growing poverty in Russia, etc., but also caused by a policy of attempting to deliberately lower the voter turnout in September. Media monitoring demonstrates that there has been no coverage related to the elections themselves anywhere in Russia.
There have been slight fluctuations in the approval ratings for other parties in Parliament—the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia Party (SR).
CPRF – 11-13%, around its highest approval rating in the last year
LDPR – 11% near average levels
SR – 7% stagnating following the announcement that several parties would be merging.
Cumulatively, all the non-Parliamentary parties – 7% from FOM and 13.4% from VTsIOM, with both polling services noting an increase of 1% in potential voting for non-Parliamentary parties.
The share of respondents who answered that they intend to spoil their ballots or simply not go to the polls at all has remained consistent at 2% and 15% respectively, and there have been no significant changes from last week’s results.
Thus, based on the data from both polls, we can conclude the following:
1. Approval for Putin’s ruling party is at its lowest in years.
2. Approval for other Parliamentary parties is stable, and only a small share of the voters who have abandoned United Russia are flocking to these parties.
3. Approval for non-Parliamentary parties is not at a level that would allow us to conclude that any one of them is capable of receiving 5%, though VTsIOM data indicates that one or two may exceed the 3% threshold (required to qualify for receiving federal funding).
4. There is no obvious aim to secure a high voter turnout—on the ground, the candidates’ campaigns have been very sluggish at best, combined with the fact that we are currently in the middle of vacation season, which has only added to the general sense of apathy.
The last two weeks have not registered significant change in the public perception of what constitutes the most significant issues —this has included the situation with coronavirus and natural disasters— fires, flooding, and abnormal heatwaves. Moreover, the rates at which these factors are important to Russian citizens are also converging—at 18% and 15% respectively, that is, over the last two weeks, coronavirus has become less of a concern, while climate-related disasters have suddenly spiked in terms of importance.
FOM notes a growing protest mood in Russia—the percentage of people who believe that if there were rallies or protests in their city, a lot of people would attend. Over the last two months, this figure has jumped from 19% to 26%, while the number of people who would like to take part in such rallies has grown from 16% to 21%.
Over the last two weeks of June, Russian anxiety has also continued to intensify—according to the last report, for the first time in the last six months, the number of people who believe that Russians are more anxious than they are calm has also grown to 47% compared with 46%, and that trend has only continued, with anxiety now estimated at 51%. Sociologists recorded the highest anxiety levels in the fall of 2020.
Results of candidate nominations
Over the last two weeks, registration has continued for candidates in single-mandate districts and for party lists.
The Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) has so far registered all of the party lists submitted to it. The first lists to get certified were those from Parliamentary parties—United Russia, CPRF, LDPR, and SR. There have been no changes to these party lists, with the exception of Vladimir Menshov, who was the fourth candidate on the SR list, who died, though that will not have any effect on the party list registration.
Other parties have been affected by two significant events—LDPR deregistered two regional groups in Belgorod and the Moscow region. Political scientist Sergei Shklyudov suggests a deal was made with United Russia, something that LDPR has been known to do in the past.
The Russian Party for Freedom and Justice (RPSS) has lost its second registrant from the list—Moscow City Duma deputy Yelena Shuvalova.
The Russian Party for Pensioners for Social Justice was unable to provide documents for 68 single-mandate candidates.
The Communists of Russia Party (a sham movement created by the Kremlin with a name similar to that of the CPRF to serve as a spoiler) submitted documents for single-mandate district candidates one week after submitting its list for the United Federal District. Their list included many people with the same names as well-known CPRF members.
Two days prior to elections, the PARNAS Party (whose membership used to include prominent statesman Boris Nemtsov assassinated in February 2015) received a notice from the Ministry of Justice that its activities had been suspended; this ruling has not been challenged, and no PARNAS candidates have been registered.
Results from work with voter lists
The Russian CEC has announced that e-voting will be available for Russian passport holders residing in the so-called LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic) and DNR (Donetsk People’s Republic) (the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine).
In 2019, Vladimir Putin issued a decree allowing residents in those territories to obtain Russian citizenship through an expedited procedure, and nearly 600,000 people took advantage of that chance. Experts from the Golos association note that current Russian legislation does not actually permit e-voting for these citizens. E-voting is carried out by the Gosuslugi system, which requires a Russian SNILS (equivalent to a US Social Security card) and a telephone number registered with a Russian telephone service provider (Russian cell phone service providers do not operate in the LNR or DNR). The authorities have not yet shed light on how these citizens, who now represent 0.5% of all Russian voters, will access voting or how those votes will be monitored.
Assessing the competition
Golos has begun weekly monitoring of federal television station media activity.
The overall conclusion by experts is that federal state television channels are pursuing a policy of “drying up” voter turnout—coverage of the elections, party registration, and candidates are scanty and decrease by the week.
With limited airtime, television stations are very reserved when it comes to any mention of most parties taking part in the elections, which does not give voters a real idea of those parties’ activities. Only two parties are given any substantial coverage—United Russia and New People. United Russia was the clear leader in terms of the number of mentions, airtime, and positive coverage. New People came in second for all indicators, well behind United Russia, but well ahead of the rest of the pack. In terms of the length of stories devoted to them, New People was in the lead.
During the fourth week of the campaign, when political developments were clearly gaining momentum, television stations drastically reduced the already minimal airtime dedicated to election coverage. The dearth of information on this major political event is most noticeable if we look at minutes of airtime given to the campaign. During the second week of the campaign, television stations gave the elections and parties 215 minutes of airtime, followed by 175 during the third week, and by the fourth week, coverage had dropped to just 96 minutes- less than half of the already-dismal figures seen just two weeks earlier. The parties themselves were given just 40.4 minutes of coverage, 81% of which went to United Russia.
Golos experts believe that this is part of a coordinated effort to reduce voter turnout.
How is the campaign going?
Over the past two weeks, the parties and the single-mandate candidates they have nominated received the right to open electoral accounts, but according to reports from the regions, almost none of them have begun actual campaigns.
Social media has been abuzz over an interview with Grigory Yavlinsky (the founder of the Yabloko Party, who is not running in these elections), in which Yavlinsky urged Aleksey Navalny’s supporters “ to not vote for us”. Never before in the history of Russian elections has a sitting politician called on people to not vote for the party he himself has founded.
Nearly all major public figures in Russia spoke out about the Yavlinsky interview, with the general consensus being that Yavlinsky is consciously sabotaging the single-mandate candidates nominated by his party in the elections.
The Smart Voting campaign
Over the past week, the organizers of the Smart Voting project sending out a mailing to a base of previously registered individuals, asking them to share information about Smart Voting and donate to the organizers.
The Smart Voting campaign released a video with Leonid Volkov and Ruslan Shaveddinov, which received 362,000 views on YouTube, slightly more than the initial Smart Voting video.
Reports from the regions
In Moscow, candidate Roman Yuneman, who is one of the few attempting to register through signatures, continues to collect signatures.
In St. Petersburg, there are already two people named Boris Vishnevsky registered to run against a Kremlin critic named… Boris Vishnevsky.
Regional elections and political events in the background
On September 19, 2021, Russia will hold several elections that will have a tremendous impact on the country’s political environment. Among them is the Gubernatorial elections in Khabarovsk Krai. Anton Furgal, the son of imprisoned Khabarovsk Krai Governor Sergei Furgal is collecting signatures in support of his nomination as a gubernatorial candidate in the Far East region. Next week, the signatures will be verified. It is unclear whether the younger Furgal will be able to fulfill the so-called “municipal filter” requirement- signatures from municipal deputies and members of the Khabarovsk Krai Legislative Assembly in support of his candidacy.
Announcement for the next two weeks
All candidate and party list registration procedures will conclude between July 21 and August 7, 2021.