On the eve of the elections pollsters note that, according to polls, the majority of voters will vote for Putin; but along with this he will probably be unable to score the required 50% plus one vote to become the president in the first round. For example, well-known analyst Mikhail Gorshkov made such conclusion in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” on March 21. He makes this conclusion proceeding from results of his polls, in accordance with which 47.7% of all voters, or 52.8% of all people willing to vote, are going to vote for Putin on March 26. He adds that the margin of error is 4%. Thus, it is likely that less than 50% of all people who come to polling stations will vote for Putin.
Meanwhile, not so many people pay attention to results of the last parliamentary elections in 1999. It is known that in December 1999 about 23% of the voters voted for the Unity movement supported by Putin. This is 1% less that the number of votes scored by the CPRF. Then it was not known that Yeltsin would resign, and Putin would run for president. In almost three months Putin has managed to get the reputation of an active and firm statesman. Even the data of Gorshkov confirm that in comparison to April 1999 the approval rating of Putin rose from 6.8% to 38.7%. At present 55.2% of respondents trust Putin. First, by his resolute statements about the intention to finish off terrorism in Chechnya, and by his support of the troops actions in the North Caucasus the Acting President won sympathies of majority of patriotically minded people in the country. Second, Putin took a range of certain steps aimed at promotion of social guarantees for pensioners, state employees, including the military personnel. Military personnel started receiving wages on time, and they were promised repayment of debts regarding the compensations for food rations (5.3 billion rubles), and it is also planned to raise their wages. Third, Putin started leading the defense industry out of the crisis. The defense sector is currently boosting production of military and civilian products, which also positively influences the attitude of the electorate employed by defense enterprises. Fourth, Putin made some steps to win sympathies of the rural population.
According to independent experts, the military electorate (military personnel, military pensioners, employees of defense enterprises, Cossacks with their families) total at least 18-20 million people. As a rule, this is the most active part of the voters. According to the Defense Ministry, during the last parliamentary elections 90% to 95% military personnel, and 60% to 70% military pensioners visited polling stations. Thus the votes of the military electorate could be decisive for the outcome of the elections. Results of the parliamentary elections in 1999 show that the military electorate supports Putin.
Army representatives account for 30-40% of the military electorate. In the Armed Forces 40% to 60% representatives of the Army voted for Unity. Thus, the united group of forces in the North Caucasus one half of military personnel voted for the “party of power,” at Plesetsk testing ground two thirds, and in the Strategic Missile Forces at least 40%. Practically in all places where sympathies of residents of military installations, employees of defense enterprises, and military personnel themselves could be traced, Unity outran its political rivals.
It seems that this conclusion could be disputed, because majority of the military personnel (98%) voted at the so-called open polling stations located outside of the military units, and it is impossible to collect the comprehensive data regarding the sympathies of the military personnel of all Armed Forces. However, if we look at the voting as at a kind of opinion poll, 2% of military personnel, military scientists, workers, pensioners, and so on opinion of which was studied in various regions of the country would be a good representative selection.
It is the results of parliamentary elections in 1999 held in the closed military installations that could be a convincing argument in favor of the presumption that Putin would win already in the first round, that is would score over 50% of votes. Why? Predicting the outcome of presidential elections, pollsters ask all categories of the population in accordance with the quotas which correspond to the general structure of the country’s population. Meanwhile, among the military electorate the voter turnout will be higher than among the others. It is their sympathies that Putin won, and it is their ideology which he professes. Hence their share in the representative selection should be higher. According to military pollsters, at least 80% of the military electorate will turn out to vote, and at least 70% will vote for Putin. If the general turnout totals about 60%, Putin will need at least 30 million votes to win in the first round. This is realistic, because the share of the military electorate among these people will be not less than 50%. Naturally, representatives of other social groups like farmers, workers, and intellectuals will also vote for Putin, which is confirmed by results of the polls. At this point we need to bear in mind that Putin enjoys support of the “party of power.” Local state officials will do their best to make the population vote for the Acting President. The fact that the major candidate for presidency is currently performing the presidential functions makes his chances of propaganda preferential in comparison to other candidates.
For example, Putin looked very impressive when he visited the military hospital in Volgograd on February 22. According to all standards, this hospital is a military unit, where campaigning is prohibited by clause 51 of the federal law “On elections of the President of the Russian Federation.” Meanwhile, Putin delivered a speech, and his speech can be considered as election campaigning. Incidentally, the Central Election Commission did not object to this speech. However, a similar visit of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky to Vatutinki military unit in the Moscow Region was taken as a violation of the election law.
Thus, activities of Acting President Putin are closely connected with the country’s defense and security issues. The presidential front-runner sees the further development of Russia in its revival as a super power with powerful armed forces. In his open letter to Russian voters, published in late February by the national newspapers, he wrote, “Russia has stopped being an empire, but has not lost its potential of a great power. It is unwise to be afraid of a strong Russia, but it needs to be taken into account. It is unwise to offend us.” Putin adds that Russian Armed Forces “are getting better and more professional, emerging from the long-standing crisis with honor.”
These words are understandable for any ordinary Russian, whose mentality is associated with respect for a strong power. Activities of Putin represent a “fascinating” sight for Russian electorate, no matter if it is a flight on a Su-25 plane, or his visit to Chechnya with the wife and entourage on New Year’s Eve.