Monday, January 9, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Putin Needs More Support from Smaller Cities to Ensure First-Round Win, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 9 – In order to ensure victory in the first round of the presidential elections, Vladimir Putin is going to have to boost reported voter turn-out and support for himself in Russia’s smaller cities since his backing is about as high as possible in the North Caucasus and his support in the major cities is low and falling, according to a Moscow analyst.

            That means that the Russian prime minister will have to gain the support of some voters who might otherwise support Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and may mean that he will be able to deploy significant administrative resources in places where the Moscow media and democracy activists have fewer resources to monitor the situation.

            An article on the “Tolkovatel’” website yesterday entitled “Could the Major Cities [of Russia] Defeat Putin in the Elections?” argues that past participation rates and current polling numbers suggests that voters in the big cities might be able to prevent a Putin win in the first round unless he picks up additional support in smaller Russian cities (  

            Putin, the unsigned article suggests, can count on a stable 23 to 24 million votes from the non-Russian republics, members of the military and security services, and the countryside but that he can could on only an additional 7.5 million votes from the major cities, for a total that would give him 44-45 percent in the first round.

            The recent Duma elections show, the article continues, that there are in fact four different Russias: the Russia of the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga, the Russia of the big cities, the Russia of the countryside and smaller urban places, and personnel in the Russian military and security services.

            European and semi-European Russia includes 40 to 42 percent of the population, a number “Tolkovatel” notes that coincides more or less precisely with the number of Russians who use the Internet  The Russia of the countryside and small cities is slightly larger, 44-45 percent; the non-Russian borderlands about 12 to 15 percent; and the uniformed services two.

            Most attention has focused on the anti-Putin movement in the first Russia, but it is important to examine the others as well.  The Russian of the national republics, “Tolkovatel” notes, “is characterized by very high levels of participation (from 80 percent and higher) and also by the widespread application of administrative resources.”

            “There is no reason to doubt that in this ‘Russia,’ Vladimir Putin on the whole will garner not less than 85 percent (from 95 percent in Chechnya to 80 percent in Mordvinia) of the vote.  That means he will receive from this group “not less than nine million votes, a figure obtained by multiplying 12-15 million by 0.8 by 0.85.

            The “fourth Russia” includes not only the military and security services but also people in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and the like. “Its number is small” – about 2-3 million – but it always generates 85 to 90 percent support for the powers that be. Thus, “the prime minister can count on receiving two million of their votes.”

            The Russia of the villages and of small and even mid-sized (up to 250,000) cities tends to have lower participation rates (60-65 percent) but to give a majority to whoever is in power. Recent polls suggest that about 44 percent of this Russia support Putin. Using the same formula, that should yield him 12-13 million votes.

            Given Putin’s support from these “three” Russias – and “Tolkovatel” suggests that urban activists won’t be able to cut into it much – then the big cities “must not give Putin more than ten million votes (so that the total number of ballots for him will not exceed 34-34.5 million or 48-49 percent).”

            Given that Putin is unlikely to win over residents in the major cities, “Tolkovatel” asks, “what in this case must ‘the Putin command’ do in order to win in the first round?”  The possibilities of non-Russian regions and Russia in uniform are more or less “exhausted,” and Putin must increase participation and his backing in rural and small town Russia.

            The prime minister and his supporters can get the votes they need by increasing participation by five percent and support for Putin by 11 percent, not impossible tasks if administrative resources are employed or if Putin reaches out to a part of the electorate that has often voted for the Communists.

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