Given this pattern, Gallyamov says, the opposition must work to show that Putin and his regime are far weaker than they appear and that alternatives to them really exist. Otherwise, no matter how attractive their ideas may be to the population, the opposition will fail to dent the incumbents and have a chance to come to power.
Why voters behave in this way, he continues, is a matter of debate. “Some say that voters are cynical. Others, on the contrary think that he is romantic and believes in a happy end. He knows that truth in the end will triumph and it seems to him that those who will win have truth on their side.” Americans call this “the bandwagon effect.”
In Russia, Gallyamov says, “in recent years, people have become accustomed to the idea that the authorities will always win and thus electability usually works for the regime. For the powers that be to lose this advantage, they must be put in a situation where they will cease to look that way.”
That means that the opposition must accentuate the weaknesses of the powers that be. Instead, Gallyamov suggests, the opposition is doing exactly the reverse. When it talks about “’a new 1937,’” it is confirming the notion that “the powers are strong; they are real.” As a result, “the electability of the powers grows.”
The fundamental point is this: “from the point of view of mobilizing its core supporters talking about repression and frightening people with a new 1937 is a correct strategy for the opposition.” But if it wants to win over others, it is acting in ways that do not serve its interests but rather those who are in power.
The opposition “must convince people that the powers that be are weak, laughable, powerless, and incapable of fulfilling those obligations which they are required to fill. Here it is necessary to understand that unlike democracies, under authoritarianism, political choices are a two-step process not a single one.”
In authoritarian systems, the voter first must decide his attitude toward the powers that be. He isn’t considering alternatives when he does so. He will consider those only once he decides that the powers could be defeated by someone. And he will reach that conclusion if and only if he has first decided that the powers that be are weak.
Gallyamov quotes Eric Hoffer’s observation that “the masses will rise not against the failings of the regime but against its weakness.” The only way the opposition can hope to win over the voters is to make sure they know that the regime is not strong but weak and thus can and must be replaced.