Sergey Bespalov

FRF Senior Fellow

Aug 11, 2021
Monitoring the pre-election situation in Russia: Third Issue

This update should have been released three days earlier and dedicated to the final outcome of the electoral candidate registration. However, that process is still underway—the list of candidates from Putin’s United Russia party has yet to be registered, as is the case with the New People party list.

The most likely reason for this is the Central Electoral Committee’s (CEC) attempt to postpone announcements on party nominations as long as possible, as well as the fact that they have to sift through huge piles of documents on the party candidates’ assets.

Traditionally, the wealthiest candidates with the highest number of accounts and property to declare come from United Russia. This is intentional, as failure to declare assets and bank accounts can be a reason for candidates to be barred from the election, at their rivals’ request. Very wealthy candidates have lengthy lists of assets, and mistakes and omissions are easy when one is declaring so many complicated shares and securities. It is rare for Russian candidates to hide assets, as if they are discovered (and they will be), a scandal is all but certain. Scandals are the last thing anyone wants in these elections, as the authorities are trying to lower voter turnout.

Party approval ratings

Not much has changed in party approval ratings over the last few weeks. United Russia is still experiencing its lowest approval yet, at 27%, according to both of Russia’s main polling services. 

Other major parties have not seen any significant changes either:

  • The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF)- 14%, fluctuating at its highest approval rating in the past year;
  • The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)- 11%, an average rating;
  • The Just Russia Party (SR)- 7%, its highest rating in the past year.

However, both polling services have noticed a sudden spike in the numbers of citizens who do not intend to vote in the elections or answered “I do not know”.

I do not intend to vote – increased from 15% to 17%,

“I do not know” – from 19% to 22% (FOM data)

Based on this information, we can infer the following:

1.            The approval ratings for parties running in the elections has been stable since elections were announced, without any abrupt increases over the last six weeks.

2.            Approval for the CPRF, SR, and LDPR is approximately 5% higher than that of the United Russia. In theory, this could lead to a complete shakeup of party distribution within the Duma, but given that approximately 30% of Russian citizens currently live in regions where the elections are completely rigged, this is highly unlikely to happen.

3.            VTsOM has consistently registered strong support for non-parliamentary parties (14%), but the question remains whether any one of them will receive enough votes to reach the 5% threshold. The main non-parliamentary parties that stand a chance of reaching 5% are Yabloko, New People, and the Pensioners’ Party.

4.            Neither polling agency has provided information on voter turnout. The number of people who say they plan to vote has been roughly unchanged for the past six weeks. This means that party and candidate campaigning has not driven public interest in the elections, and people are not feeling inspired by the candidates.

Candidate nomination results

The registration period for candidates in single-mandate districts has now ended. Party lists are still being registered, with neither the United Russia nor New People list yet registered. Based on the candidate registrations, we can conclude the following: 

  1. All party lists have been registered, and Yabloko party registration indicates that it will be marked on ballots as a party whose candidates include “foreign agents”.
  • Authorities have not yet applied a new law enabling them to disqualify candidates from single-mandate districts from registering for the State Duma elections if they have any ties to Alexei Navalny. However, candidates Schlossberg (Moscow district 207) and Tupitsyn (Irkutsk Oblast 96) have both announced that the CEC did receive letters from the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation regarding their support for Navalny, which may be used as grounds for disqualifying candidates from elections.
  • Candidate Grudinin (CPRF, former candidate for the Russian Presidency) was withdrawn due to ownership of foreign bank accounts. Grudinin himself denies having these accounts, and the CEC has not received any information on whether or not they exist. 

Election financing

Information on parties’ and candidates’ electoral accounts is cojnstantly updated on the Website of CEC.

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/

By August 5, the political parties had raised 1,710,000 rubles, broken down as follows:

  • United Russia – 700 million rubles
  • CPRF – 102 million rubles
  • SR – 80 million rubles
  • LDPR – 675 million rubles
  • Yabloko – 17.5 million rubles

700 million rubles is approximately 10 million US dollars, for 104 million voters. It is impossible to execute an electoral campaign spending just 10 US cents (or seven rubles) per voter. Campaigns do not truly start until voters feel that they are hearing about the election no matter where they go, but that requires spending about ten times more on voter outreach.

This lack of funding means that parties are barely financing their own election campaigns. Only LDPR and United Russia have engaged in any visible campaigning in the regions, and most of that involves handing out leaflets and posting street signs. 

Given that media campaigning will only be permitted after August 19, campaigning outside of mass media—on the streets, on websites, and on social media—has been practically nonexistent, and has barely changed party approval ratings during the first six weeks of the election period. The Russian law does permit campaigns anywhere outside of mass media, including street signs, special newspapers, trinkets and paraphernalia, online ads, etc. prior to August 19. None of this can be bought for such an absurdly low amount of money, and since there is no campaigning, party approval ratings have remained about where they were before the election season began. United Russia and United Russia have raised 700 million and 102 million rubles, respectively, with nothing to show for it.

Assessing the competition

The association Golos has published six weekly media monitoring reports on national television stations: https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145375

We can conclude the following based on campaign media coverage:

During the sixth week of the campaign, 14 of the 15 parties that had nominated their list of candidates were mentioned in the media. This is the first time we have seen such diverse coverage since the beginning of the campaign. Many of the non-parliamentary parties had not been mentioned so frequently on television since the campaign began. Of the “small” parties, the most frequently mentioned were New People (21 mentions), Rodina (14 mentions), Civic Platform (13 mentions), and the Russian Ecological Party “the Greens” (12 mentions). 

Other “small” parties were mentioned less often: RPCC—five times, the Pensioners’ Party—three times, and Yabloko, the Party of Growth, and Green Alternative were each mentioned once. However, despite the growing diversity, not all participants are being included in media campaign coverage. For comparison’s sake, the most frequently mentioned parties of the week were United Russia—113 times, LDPR—34, A Just Russia – For Truth!— 27, and CPRF—23.

The Russian All-People’s Union is the only party in the pre-election race that has not been mentioned once on a national television station.

All it took for six parties to move from being completely ignored to frequent, positive coverage in the news was their participation in a minor campaign event at the initiative of United Russia, when they signed an agreement “on safe elections” in a conference room at the Russian CEC. United Russia, LDPR, Rodina, Civic Platform, New People, and the REP Greens all earned glowing coverage for their participation. Compared with the previous five weeks of the campaign, the last four parties saw their coverage nearly double.

The CPRF is still the only party on the receiving end of predominantly negative coverage. This time, the reason was its refusal to sign United Russia’s safe elections agreement.

Overall, the situation is reminiscent of the 2018 presidential elections, when Vladimir Putin was the subject of overwhelmingly positive news coverage, Pavel Grudinin was hardly ever mentioned except in negative light, and the other candidates were reduced to simply being extras in an election that everyone knew had already been rigged.

The Russian CEC has also introduced qualification requirements for anyone taking part in video election observation. Only party representatives can be observers, and only 5% of polling stations will be accessible. In other words, video election observation is all but terminated.

Campaign progress

We can assess the campaign’s progress based on candidates’ public statements. The Petersburg Politics Foundation gathered these public statements over the course of the first six weeks of the campaign season:

  • UNITED RUSSIA. Announced a bill to include military service in the Army when considering seniority for early retirement (Andrei Isayev).
  • CPRF. Suggested using the state budget to pay for prescription medications (Gennady Zyuganov).
  • LDPR. Suggested bringing back collective farm markets for enterprises, farmers, and gardeners to freely sell their products (Vladimir Zhirinovsky).
  • A Just Russia. Spoke about introducing siestas and increasing payments to Russia’s southern regions as a 20% salary increase (Dmitry Gusev). 
  • YABLOKO. Spoke about the need to build municipal shelters for stray animals in every municipal center in Russia, with a commitment to rescue, treat, and sterilize (Nikolai Rybakov).
  • NEW PEOPLE. Held a joint Port of Baikal clean up event with the Ambassador of the World Wildlife Fund, Elena Letuchaya, to remove old rubber from the marine area.
  • PARTY OF GROWTH. Suggested postponing the State Duma elections to December due to the worsening Covid-19 situation (Sergei Demin).
  • RUSSIAN PENSIONERS’ PARTY FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. Made a statement about the need to reduce taxes for vulnerable groups of citizens by raising taxes for high earners (Andrei Shirokov).
  • RODINA. Demanded the creation of a two-speed criminal code with the introduction of significantly harsher punishments for foreign criminals (Alexei Zhuravlev).
  • GREENS. Suggested tightening wastewater standards from facilities located in the central and buffer ecological zones of the Baikal natural territory, and signing an inter-governmental cooperation agreement with Mongolia on the preservation of the Selenga river basin (Andrei Nagibin).
  • GREEN ALTERNATIVE. Stated that the agreement on safe elections will lead to a healthier nation (Ruslan Khvostov).

These initiatives are more likely to make us laugh than think seriously about the election. In neither form nor content, are they what one would expect from a political campaign during an election season.

“Smart Voting” campaign progress

The “Smart Voting” campaign organizers have sent out several mailings to supporters’ networks and monitored social media pages, including one on behalf of Alexei Navalny.

According to Leonid Volkov, following a string of decisions by the Russian authorities to block websites linked to Navalny, there was a sharp uptick in the number of “Smart Voting” app downloads from the Apple and Google Stores. It was the ninth most downloaded app from the Apple Store, and 33rd from Google. The total number of downloads was not specified.

Notable updates from the regions

Two of Russia’s most well-known single-mandate candidates – Roman Yunneman (Moscow) and Anton Furgal (Khabarovsk) have submitted their signatures to the CEC. They are both expected to be registered on August 13-14.

The head of Russia’s CEC, Ella Pamfilova, made an abrupt announcement that ballots would contain information on recent name changes for both candidates from St. Petersburg named Boris Vishnevsky, who are running against a lawmaker and Kremlin critic named none other than… Boris Vishnevsky. If this requirement is met, it will improve the prospect that the real Boris Vishnevsky to win votes. https://www.interfax.ru/russia/782102

In Pskov, there was a short-lived attempt to remove Lev Schlossberg from the elections to the Pskov Region Legislative Assembly due to his association with Alexei Navalny. Over the course of just one day, Schlossberg was simultaneously registered as a candidate for the State Duma and deprived of his right to run for the Pskov Legislative Assembly. In theory, the grounds for disqualifying Schlossberg from the regional parliament would have barred him from running in any elections for five years, but he was reinstated the next day.

Regional elections and background political events

Over the last two weeks, Alexei Navalny’s allies who had submitted documents to register as candidates in municipal elections, or had previously been registered, were barred from running in over 10 regions around Russia. Popular Saratov blogger and Communist Alexei Bondarenko was also prevented from running. Thus, we can say that not a single Navalny supporter is running in these elections.

Announcements for the next two weeks

Media campaigning begins on August 19

Links to sources:

https://fom.ru/Dominanty/14612

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

https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145314?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=i-bez-togo-nebolshoy-obem-efirnogo-vrem

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