Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 55

With less than two weeks left until election day, Russia’s pollsters have been busy churning out the latest results from presidential preference surveys. They contain, of course, no surprises: Acting President Vladimir Putin remains way ahead of the pack. Some polls, however, show that his numbers have dropped somewhat. A poll commissioned by the Moscow Times and carried out by the Institute for Comparative Social Research (CESSI), found that 53 percent of those surveyed will vote for Putin, 18 percent for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and 5 percent for Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky. The poll was carried out between February 21 and March 3 among 1,254 people across Russia (Moscow Times, March 17). Another poll, carried out by the ROMIR agency, also showed Putin at 50 percent, Zyuganov with 21.8 percent and Yavlinsky with 5.1 percent. ROMIR found that Putin’s rating had dropped significantly–10 percent in just one week. Still another poll, carried out by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, found that 58 percent of the respondents would vote for Putin–down 1 percent over the previous week–while 21 percent supported Zyuganov and 5 percent supported Yavlinsky. Finally, a poll carried out by the ARPI regional polling agency found that 52.7 percent backed Putin, down from 55 percent in a survey taken by the agency earlier this month (Moscow Times, March 17; Reuters, March 16).

What all the polls cited above indicate is that Putin’s numbers are falling close to 50 percent. If he receives less than 50 percent of the vote on March 26, election day, Putin will face a run-off election on April 16. Some observers, however, have pointed out that there is still a significant number of undecided voters, and they are likely in the end to vote for Putin. The CESSI poll found 11 percent of those surveyed had not yet made up their minds (Moscow Times, March 17).

The other potential problem for the Kremlin is turn-out. If less than 50 percent of registered voters go to the polls, the election will have to be nullified and held again four months later. Two factors make this a possibility. The first is the general sense that Putin’s victory is inevitable, thereby making many voters less likely to go to the polls. The second factor, according to some observers, is that Russian voters tend to get mobilized not to vote for, but to vote against. Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996, for instance, was undoubtedly more a vote against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov than a vote for the incumbent, whose approval rating was in the low single-digits prior to the beginning of that campaign. This time, however, Zyuganov is not seen as a serious threat, and the Kremlin has not been using anti-Communist appeals to mobilize voters, as it did four years ago.