Sunday, March 22, 2020

Kremlin Carefully Tailoring Its Messages to Boost Participation and Approval Rate in Amendment Referendum

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – The Kremlin would like to see no less than 60 percent of Russian voters take part in the April 22 referendum on the constitutional amendments and no fewer than 70 percent of these voting “yes,” Znak journalists Ignat Bakin and Mariya Plyusina report. To that end, Moscow has given instructions on how to influence different groups in the population.

            In February, the Dossier organization reported the central authorities had sent a directive to the regions on how officials there were to mobilize voters beginning this week ( and Now Znak has obtained and confirmed the genuineness of the text of that order (

            It shows, Bakin and Plyusina say, that the authorities have carefully subdivided the population into different groups and plan to make very different arguments to each on the basis of what Moscow thinks will be most compelling. They note that nothing is said about extending Putin’s right to run for president again, perhaps because this order was compiled before that happened.

            To influence pensioners and older people in general, the document recommends that agitators should play up themes of patriotism, civic responsibility, and concerns about the fate of their children and grandchildren as well as reminding these people how much better things are now than they were in the 1990s.

            For those the authorities identify as “patriots,” the order calls for those meeting with them to stress that the changes elevate the Constitution over international law, strengthen the ability of Russia to defend itself against the approach of NATO to Russia’s borders, and restrict the ability of oligarchs who have spent too much time abroad from influencing Russian policy.

            To ensure the support of those already identified as supporters of the president, the agitators are being told to talk a lot about his role in the history of the country, his great achievements, and the need to show him support by voting for the amendments.

            When speaking with poorer people, the agitators must stress the existing social guarantees and the idea that “only under Putin will life become better.”

            Young people, the order says, are to be won over by stressing that this vote on amendments is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make decisions that will make the country better and for a long time. Other votes are more frequent and less consequential. This one, agitators are told to stress is fundamental for the future of the country.

            And finally, when talking with those the authorities have identified as their critics, the agitators are told to say that the amendments will ensure the rotation of office, a defense against mistakes by any one officeholder, and that these are things that even Putin opponents should want because they are good for them too.

            The agitators are told to tell such people that the amendments create a real balance of power among the branches of the government and between Moscow and the regions and localities, that they will prevent the restoration of stagnation and gerontocracy like those in the late USSR, and even give those who may oppose Putin now greater opportunities in the future.

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