Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Only One Russian in Five Takes Part in Elections to Back One Candidate over Another, Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 27 – Russians have many reasons for taking part in elections, but using their votes to influence who wins is one of the least important, according to a study by Mikhail Chernysh of the Moscow Institute of Sociology that has been summarized today by the Tolkovatel portal (ttolk.ru/2016/12/27/деды-голосовали/).

            For the majority of Russians, the portal says the Chernysh study concludes, “elections are a cargo cult: people take part in them because everyone else does;” and they view them as “an important ceremony.” Thus, most view those who refuse to take part as engaged in unacceptable “protest behavior.”

            Only 20 percent go to the polls with the idea of backing a particular candidate, be it one selected by the powers that be or an opposition figure.  Approximately 40 percent think voting is something they have to do, although approximately 20 percent think that they can choose whether to do so and whether it is desirable or required in a particular case.

            “The larger the population point it,” the portal continues, “the less obligatory its residents view elections,” with the lowest share of such people being in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At the other extreme, rural areas are dominated by people who view voting as something that they must do, a pattern that gives an automatic advantage to the party of power.

            “Old Soviet stereotypes have retained their influence in rural areas and partially in small cities, where the structure of power relations, if it has undergone change, remains much as it was because it hasn’t touched the deep bases of the relationship of the authorities and the population,” Tolkovatel says.

            Urban voters feel less obligated to take part, but they are more differentiated than are their rural counterparts regarding elections at different levels. Urban Russians feel more required to take part in presidential elections than in parliamentary or local ones. About a third of all Russians nonetheless feel they should take part in all elections.

            There are also generational differences. Older people in cities are more likely to feel required to vote than are more junior cohorts.

            Only a fifth take part in order to support a particular candidate, and only one in 16 – 6.4 percent – do so to support a political party, and that pattern holds for those who support the ruling party. And three percent now participate not to vote for someone or some party but to vote against one or the other or both.

            Drawing on Chernysh’s research, the portal draws three conclusions: First, most Russians and especially those in rural areas retain “a quasi-Soviet attitude toward elections as a carnival measure,” an attitude local officials encourage because it makes it easier for them to deliver the percentages those above them want.

            Second, there is now “a relatively small segment” of the population which picks and chooses when to participate on the basis of whether its members believe voting will do them any good.  And third, there is emerging, at least in the capitals, a more rational and skeptical attitude toward elections as such.

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