Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 12

Regional Polls Point to a Tight Presidential Race

By Andrei Zhukov

The chances of the candidates in the Russian presidential electionsnow depend on the preferences of the voters in the provinces.According to a number of pollsters, these preferences have remainedvirtually unchanged since last December (i.e., since the lastparliamentary elections).

"To a significant extent, voter preferences by geographicregion remain the same as they were in December 1995. In the north–inthe Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Pskov oblasts–Boris Yeltsin hasa certain advantage. He also leads in the big cities–in St. Petersburg,Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Novgorod. In the so-called’red belt’–in the Orel, Bryansk, and Penza oblasts — Zyuganovhas the advantage," according to Sergei Tumanov, the directorof Moscow State University’s Sociological Research Center.

The stability of voter preferences has been confirmed by a numberof regional polls. In the Irkutsk oblast, for example, in theparliamentary elections, the KPRF received 15.7 percent of thevote, the LDPR — 15.6 percent, "Russia is Our Home"– 8.3 percent, Yabloko–6.6 percent. Today, in responseto the question, "Whom would you like to see in the postof President of Russia?" out of 1,247 respondents, 18.1 percentchose Gennady Zyuganov. Grigory Yavlinsky was chosen by 7.9 percentof those polled, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, by 7.4 percent. BorisYeltsin received the support of another 22.5 percent.

Thus, the percentage of voters supporting Zyuganov and Yavlinskyremained within the three-percent statistical margin of error.

At first glance, it looks like Zhirinovsky has dropped by eightpercentage points, but many pollsters are inclined to link thisto the so-called "Zhirinovsky phenomenon" — accordingto which some respondents (according to Boris Grishin’s VoxPopuli–up to 10 percent) conceal their true sympathies andshow them only when they actually vote.

Boris Yeltsin’s result is approximately equal to the percentageof the vote won by democratic organizations ("Russia’s DemocraticChoice," "Forward, Russia!," "Common Cause,"the Pamfilova-Gurov-Lysenko bloc, the Economic Freedom Party,etc.), "Russia is Our Home," and part of the "Womenof Russia" movement, whose leader, Yekaterina Lakhova, nowactively supports the president. Moreover, many polls show thatup to half of those who voted for the "Women of Russia"movement intend to vote for Yeltsin on June 16th.

A similar situation is taking shape in Novgorod. According tothe "Dialog" research center, a presidential preferencepoll in May came out as follows: 23.6 percent for Boris Yeltsin("Russia is Our Home’s" 10.5 percent, approximatelyanother 10 percent from other democratic organizations, plus partof the supporters of "Women of Russia"), 19.6 percentfor Zyuganov (in December 1995, 18 percent voted for the KPRF),10.1 percent for Yavlinsky (7.3 percent had voted for Yablokoin December), and 6.6 percent for Zhirinovsky (12.3 percent hadvoted for the LDPR).

Thus, this trend can be regarded as fairly stable. Taking thisinto account, it is possible to predict regional presidentialpreferences with a fair degree of accuracy.

It is well-known that the KPRF came in first in all but 21 regionsof the Russian Federation in the December elections. In only fourof these 21 regions did the Communists finish as low as thirdor fourth. In seven regions (Adygea, Dagestan, Karachevo-Cherkessia,North Ossetia, and the Kemerovo, Orel, and Tambov oblasts), atleast 40 percent of the voters voted for the Communists.

The KPRF received its greatest support in the "red belt"to the south of Moscow (Penza, Belgorod, Krasnodar, etc.) andin the Volga region. There were two reasons. The regions votingfor the Communists are those which suffered most under "shocktherapy," and have not recovered to this day. The country’slargest coal field (which the government continually runs outof funds to maintain), the "depressed areas," whosehigh-tech and industrial enterprises now lie idle, and the agrarianregions, which demand more and more money from the government,are in this category. Moreover, according to the pollsters, theseareas contain a rather large percentage of elderly voters.

The geographical distribution of the LDPR’s supporters has changedconsiderably. If, earlier, the LDPR’s base of support was madeup of those coming from regions which became border regions afterthe breakup of the USSR, now, his support is coming from the FarEast, the Kurgan oblast, and some regions in Siberia. Zhirinovsky’ssupport in European Russia has been cut in half. The Liberal Democratscame in first in 12 regions: Komi, the Mari Republic, the Maritimeterritory, and the Vologda, Kirov, Murmansk, and several otheroblasts). Nowhere did his party receive more than 22 percent ofthe vote.

Yabloko’s electorate, as it turns out, has no clear territorialtendencies: it captured first place only in St. Petersburg, andcame in second place in four other regions (the Rostov, Tomsk,and Yaroslavl oblasts, and in Moscow). It is striking that thecities and regions which supported Yavlinsky most are "in-between"places; places where there have been reforms, but where the majorityof citizens are not too satisfied with how they turned out. Inthese areas, people want market reforms to continue, but "ina different way," which is just what Yabloko’s leaderhas promised to do.

"Russia is Our Home" took first place in only nine regions–Kabardino-Balkariya,Ingushetia, Kalmykia, Tatarstan, Tuva, Chechnya, Moscow, the Yamal-Nenetsautonomous region, and Chukotka. Outside of the capital, "Russiais Our Home’s" main base of support turned out to be thenational republics. This is obviously due to the fact that forthe last year and a half, the government in Moscow has been signinglimited autonomy agreements between the center and the regions.These agreements gave the republics more autonomy, and the separatistmoods which had existed there have clearly weakened. But if youadd in all the votes for democratic organizations and half ofthose who voted for the "Women of Russia" movement,the "party of power" is leading in 27 regions, winningall of Zhirinovsky’s regions and some of the Communists’ as well.

But the general picture is not so favorable: the "party ofpower" is not able to win back the most populous regions,and even in these regions, no more than 30 percent of the votersintend to vote for it…

In fact, the main question today is how those whose favorite candidatesare not participating in the presidential race will vote. On onehand, supporters of "Working Russia," the Agrarian Party,and the Derzhava movement, and on the other, supportersof most of the democratic parties and the "Women of Russia"movement. According to the Institute of the Sociology of Parliamentarianism’sdirector, Nugzar Betaneli, the Communist electorate has been mobilizedever since the beginning of the presidential race and is not expectedto grow. But the democratic electorate, due to its introspectivenature, is still forming. This could increase support for BorisYeltsin. Nevertheless, Betaneli predicts that the Yeltsin andZyuganov, the two main presidential candidates will each receiveabout 38 percent of the vote. This, in part, coincides with theDecember 17 vote (the KPRF, the Agrarian Party, Derzhava,and "Working Russia" got about 34.5 percent, while "Russiais Our Home", "Women of Russia," and the democraticparties got about 30 percent).

But purely mechanical addition is not always correct: two thingscould obviously fundamentally affect the mood of voters in theregions–candidate trips to the regions or the solution (or lackof solution) of these areas’ most painful problems. As for trips,President Yeltsin is the clear leader (both in "quantity"and "quality" of trips — the president’s bold tripto Chechnya contributed to his jump in the polls in late May-earlyJune). When it comes to the solution of socio-economic problems,the situation gets more complicated. But there is one positivefact: all of the Communists’ attempts to organize unrest amongcoal miners (especially in the Kuzbass) on the eve of the electionshave failed. And this means that trust in Yeltsin has grown evenin the regions which voted for Zyuganov in December. We will haveto wait for the elections to find out how much.

So far, one thing is clear: none of the candidates will get 50percent of the votes in the first round. Judging from the resultsof the December elections, it is also obvious who will make itinto the second round.

The main fight still lies ahead. According to the Institute ofthe Sociology of Parliamentarianism’s data, if there are onlytwo main candidates left in the race, neither of them can counton receiving more than 3.5 percent of the "unaffiliated"vote. In this sense, the first round will be revealing: whoeveris the "moral victor" will most likely become presidentas well.

Translated by A. Kondorsky and Mark Eckert