‘Record’ victory cements Putin’s autocrat status

The Bell

Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russian president. Officially it’s his fifth term in the Kremlin — although in practice it’s six if we include his stint pulling the strings as prime minister. The official results have Putin polling even higher than predicted, taking 87% of the vote. That figure looks utterly implausible and places Putin among the likes of Asian, Middle Eastern and Central Asian autocrats. The election itself went ahead against a tense background, with Ukrainian shelling and attempted incursions into Russia’s border regions along with on-going drone attacks on Russian oil refineries.

  • The official election result is already out — Vladimir Putin secured 87.28% on a turnout of 77.44%. Both those numbers are record highs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And both are about 10 percentage points up on 2018 (when Putin polled 76.8% on a 67% turnout). This suggests that the Kremlin’s political managers were tasked with delivering a significant increase in Putin’s popularity. That in itself is not surprising: in the current circumstances an autocrat needs to demonstrate how his people have rallied around the flag.
  • Initial research by journalists and independent experts suggests the vote could have been the most heavily falsified in the history of post-Soviet Russia. Analysis by IStories and Ivan Shukshin, a researcher and activist with the Golos vote monitoring NGO, estimated that around 22 million of the 76.3 million votes cast for Putin were “anomalous.” In other words, almost a third of Putin’s official tally could have been false. 
  • Their methodology is based on analyzing the turnout and vote shares at individual polling stations, using the central election commission’s official data. Districts with higher turnouts also have larger vote shares for Putin — a fact which suggests ballot-stuffing since the two shouldn’t be strongly correlated. IStories and Shukshin didn’t include results in Moscow, where online voting makes the analysis trickier. A third report by Novaya Gazeta Europe said as many as 31.6 million votes — almost half of Putin’s total — could have been fake.
  • Many experienced observers of Russian politics (1,2) believe that election organizers in provincial Russia “overdid it” this time round. Most pre-election leaks of the Kremlin’s vote strategy featured more modest targets. In spring 2023, for instance, RBC wrote that the Kremlin wanted to secure 75% of the vote on a 70% turnout. A few months later, Meduza wrote that regional authorities were advised that they should secure at least 80% of the vote for Putin. The final pre-election opinion polls conducted by state pollster VTsIOM (which also represent indirect instructions to regional election officials for polling day) showed Putin’s result was at the initial target level of 75%.
  • The record result places Putin firmly among his fellow autocrats. In free democratic elections, it’s a rare anomaly for a candidate to poll even at 60-70%. Only once, in extreme circumstances, have we seen more than 80% in a democratic country — a huge protest vote that gave France’s Jacques Chirac 82% in a presidential run-off against Jean-Marie le Pen in 2002, the BBC reported. In Russian history, Putin still has something to aim for if we look back to Soviet times. The turnout in 2024 was slightly higher than when Boris Yeltsin was voted president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1991, but there is still some way to go to match the Stalin era of 100% turnout in votes to appoint new deputies.
  • Since Putin was re-elected in 2018, voting in Russia has become even less transparent, and offered greater opportunities for fraud. Remote electronic voting was conducted in 29 Russian regions. Some 70% of the 4.7 million voters registered to vote online apparently cast their votes on the first of the three-day poll. Monitoring violations at physical polling stations is an almost impossible task. The Central Electoral Commission stopped broadcasting live footage from monitoring cameras in polling stations after the pictures from 2018 had depicted numerous violations and led observers to conclude that the scale of ballot stuffing was so great that the real result could not be determined in at least 11 regions. 
  • The 2024 poll also differed from Putin’s two most recent victories in the selection of candidates who ran against the Kremlin leader. In 2012, political strategists allowed businessman Mikhail Prokhorov to stand, proposing that Russia’s marginal liberal opposition would consolidate around him. And in 2018, that same role went to TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak. But this time round there was no acceptable liberal candidate. Even the little-known politician Boris Nadezhdin, who timidly spoke out against the war in Ukraine, was denied registration. On the ballot were only Putin’s “rivals” from the systemic opposition parties. All of them have been equally supportive of Russia’s repressive turn, backing various crackdown measures that have come before the State Duma in recent years.
  • The extras in the 2024 race — Communist Nikolai Kharitonov, Vladislav Davankov of New People, and Leonid Slutsky of the LDPR — polled less than 12% combined. That’s slightly less than communist candidate Pavel Grudinin managed on his own in 2018. The 75-year-old Kharitonov’s 4.3% was better than the youthful Davankov’s 3.8%, while Slutsky, the unsuccessful heir to charismatic populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, trailed in last with 3.2%.

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