The Relationship between Turnout and Competition Levels in Russia

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66th Annual National Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association

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Reisinger, William M; Moraski, Bryon J
Russia; electoral turnout; Putin; patron-client ties; Political Science
conference paper description
We examine voter turnout in the 89 administrative units comprising the Russian Federation for elections to the presidency and the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) from 1991 to 2007. Politics within these regions has come to vary substantially, and they therefore are apt cases for examining factors that drive turnout levels. The collapse of the Soviet Union introduced relatively free elections at the national level, which were gradually expanded to the subnational level with the popular election of regional executives. However, Vladimir Putin’s ascension to the presidency is now widely recognized as ushering in a new era, one of managed competition. From 2000 on, Putin gradually reasserted the influence of the central government--particularly the executive branch--over regional elections and ultimately eliminated the popular election of regional executives. Thus, although the factors explaining how regional turnout varies include economic and social conditions, voting levels should not always be equated with democratic participation since in extreme cases—such as the Russian Federation—the two may be negatively correlated. Our analyses illuminate the differences across Russian regions as well as between the Yeltsin and Putin years. We find substantial evidence of elite-driven turnout, accomplished in large part thanks to the persistence of patron-client ties.