The election campaign: a low start

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Most of the experts approached by the Novye Izvestia newspaper predict that this year’s Duma election campaign will break all financial records. Each party can spend over one billion rubles – and that’s official spending only. And although the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has tried to make elections more transparent, politicians will still bypass the Justice Ministry and use semi-legal or illegal funding schemes.

Alexei Mukhin, general director of the Political Information Center: “This year’s election is sure to be far more costly – after all, there are now two Kremlin parties. And spending will simply double.”

Novye Izvestia also notes that parties actually spend three or four times the amounts they report to the Justice Ministry. Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, maintains that most campaign funding for this year’s election will come from shadow sources; parties will spend huge sums – outside their official campaign funds, of course.

Also among the funding sources mentioned by the experts is the established tradition of selling safe slots on candidate lists. And the prices of Duma seats this season are breaking records. Mukhin told Novye Izvestia that the going price of a safe slot on a party list is 3 million to 7-10 million euros. Belkovsky cites similar fitures: up to $10 million for a place on United Russia’s list, and $5 million for the Communist Party (CPRF).

State-owned companies are also funding parties. According to Mukhin, the new twist in this election is that Gazprom is sponsoring only one party, United Russia, via associated companies; in the past it used to distribute donations equally. “But Just Russia’s major sponsor is Rosneft – via affiliates, of course,” says Mukhin.

The Vedomosti newspaper notes that the CEC is readying an extensive public awareness campaign for the December election. The media schedule is packed: 32 television ads (each ad to be screened at least once a week on each national television network), a multi-part documentary about elections, a series of programs explaining elections and providing information, other themed television and radio broadcasts, and articles in the print media.

One of the ads aimed at turning Russian citizens into responsible voters looks like this: a small weight is lowered onto one side of a wavering set of scales – the balance is disrupted – and the voiceover tells the viewer that his vote could be decisive. There will also be ads to tempt investors: “Invest in the future on December 2.” Sports fans will get an ad with the logo of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi: “They have made their choice – now the choice is up to you.”

Sergei Kostenko (United Russia), a CEC member with an advisory vote, predicts that these public awareness ads could boost voter turnout by up to 3%.

Vedomosti reports that although minimal turnout requirements have been abolished, CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov says he expects turnout to be 60-65% (it was 56% in the Duma election of 2003). But a poll done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) in May showed that 25% of respondents were completely unaware of the upcoming Duma election. VTsIOM General Director Valery Fedorov maintains that in September, when voters are hit by “a flood of information,” polls will show voter awareness rising rapidly. The CEC is now working with polling agencies to identify the least-informed voter groups, and planning its media campaign accordingly.

The Russian State Service Academy (RSSA) has done a survey aimed at identifying voter moods in the lead-up to elections; it concludes that using patriotic principles in policy programs will help parties get more votes.

The Kommersant newspaper presents the RSSA poll results, ranking the five most popular parties as follows: United Russia (31.4%), the CPRF (10.2%), Just Russia (6.9%), the LDPR (5.2%), and Patriots of Russia (5.1%).

This is an unexpectedly high score for the Patriots of Russia, and the RSSA offers an explanation: “in recent years we have seen a formation process of values that integrate Russian society,” and the most important of these values are “national patriotism and the strengthening of Russia’s statehood.” According to the RSSA, “widespread interest in patriotic ideals, slogans, and actions” is developing; so the RSSA advises parties that “articulating this interest convincingly in the election campaign is one of the most effective ways of winning votes.”

Another way to gain the confidence of voters is by convincing them that candidates are honest and not mercenary. According to VTsIOM, half of respondents say that these are the most important qualities for politicians; only 5-6% say it’s more important for politicians to be competent and well-educated.

Valery Fedorov told Vedomosti that because many citizens are convinced that politicians are motivated by self-interest, the parties are trying to recruit authoritative candidates from other fields – athletes, performing artists, doctors – in order to make use of the moral credibility of untainted people.

The Levada Center polling agency has done a reverse ranking of political parties in the lead-up to elections: measuring the extent to which voters dislike certain parties. As Vedomosti reports, respondents were asked to name parties which they would not support under any circumstances. The highest anti-ratings were recorded by the LDPR (32.8% of respondents would never vote for it) and the CPRF (25.7%). United Russia and Just Russia scored 9.9% and 3% respectively.

Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center, says that Just Russia’s anti-rating is low because the party still isn’t well-known.

“Just Russia’s ideas get attention, but its politicians do not,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, director of the Political Conjuncture Center.

Igor Bunin, head of the Political Techniques Center, says that if Just Russia campaigns well and convinces some undecided voters, it could challenge the CPRF for second place, even though the CPRF and the LDPR have the advantage of a stable electorate.

Grazhdankin questions Just Russia’s ability to campaign effectively: it still lacks colorful leaders and real achievements.

Experts predict that the LDPR’s rating might fall by December. Vinogradov warns that United Russia is aiming to take votes from the LDPR – as evidenced by United Russia’s involvement in patriotic mobilization during recent events in Estonia.

Novye Izvestia presents the results of a Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) poll from last week, indicating that media coverage of party activities in the regions is a seasonal phenomenon: the only time regional voters notice parties is during election campaigns. Almost half of respondents (49%) say they haven’t seen any activity by political parties in the regions. Only 21% have noticed the activities of the much-publicized United Russia party, and only 4% have noticed any other parties.

Alexander Ivanchenko, head of the Independent Institute of Elections, says that this is because parties engage in self-promotion episodically, for two or three months during election campaigns.

Veronica Perevezentseva, advisor to the FOM president, agrees that recognition of parties is low because the campaign season is yet to begin. Yes, politicians are visiting the regions – but these activities aren’t getting much media coverage.

It’s interesting to note that only 29% of respondents identify as supporters of any particular party, while 64% do not.

Turning to presidential ratings, VTsIOM has some interesting results from a poll that included Vladimir Putin among its hypothetical candidates. Not surprisingly, he got the highest score: 64% of respondents say they would vote for Putin if a presidential election were held this week. These findings indicate that the only opposition candidate capable of competing with Putin’s designated successor is CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov (Zyuganov, Sergei Ivanov, and Dmitri Medvedev scored 3% each). According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, including Putin on the list of candidates seems like a ruse to conceal the actual configuration of forces before the official successor is announced. But given that Zyuganov doesn’t get anywhere near as much television coverage as Medvedev or Ivanov, he might even be described as the favorite in the presidential race, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. This is indirectly supported by a FOM poll done in late July: Zyuganov’s rating was higher than the ratings of Medvedev and Ivanov.

Zyuganov’s confident position is primarily due to the fact that in the lead-up to elections, the left-wing field has been cleared of popular politicians like Dmitri Rogozin or Sergei Glaziev.

Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Evaluations, views Zyuganov as a serious rival for the future successor and emphasizes that if the Kremlin suddenly decides to arrange “an election with an alternative” – that is, more than one Kremlin candidate – it would only improve Zyuganov’s chances.

The structure of the rating should change once Putin announces his final refusal to run for re-election. “As soon as Putin is gone, his allies will have high voter support ratings,” says Fedorov.

Meanwhile, the potential successors – senior deputy prime ministers Dmitri Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov – are seeking additional support. Alexander Birman, economic observer at Ren-TV, suggests in an article for Sekret Firmy magazine that Medvedev is forming an alliance with Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration – as evidenced by the resolution of the power-struggle over the Kovykta gas field. On the other hand, Sergei Ivanov has declined the post of chairman of the board at the newly-formed Unified Ship-Building Corporation, clearing the way for Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to take that role; this indicates that Sergei Ivanov is seeking an alliance with influential presidential aide Viktor Ivanov. Birman notes that Viktor Ivanov is Serdyukov’s patron. Until now, Sergei Ivanov and Viktor Ivanov have had frequent conflicts over the most viable defense sector enterprises. “But now it seems to be time for reconciliation and reciprocal concessions,” says Birman. “According to some sources, Viktor Ivanov is also the patron of Nafta-Moscow owner Suleiman Kerimov – a major shareholder in SberBank and Gazprom. For Sergei Ivanov’s presidential ambitions, mediated access to assets like those is far more important than total control of the Russian defense sector.”

According to the Renaissance Group’s quarterly report (at Gazeta.ru), Sergei Ivanov has been catching up with Dmitri Medvedev rapidly over the past six months, and has now pulled ahead of Medvedev. Poll respondents prefer Ivanov across a range of criteria. More and more people believe that Putin will choose Ivanov as his successor: 20% of respondents in the last quarterly report, 30% in the current report. Medvedev is lagging behind, with 28%. Respondents believe that Ivanov would be better at handling foreign policy problems and fighting corruption. But the report warns against drawing any hasty conclusions, since respondents regard Medvedev as more effective on the issue that concerns them most: the social and economic sphere. Seven percent of respondents believe that Medvedev can solve Russia’s economic problems, while 5% say the same for Ivanov. According to the Renaissance Group report, the economy will be the major campaign issue. Roland Nash, chief strategist and analytical department manager at Renaissance Capital, says that Ivanov still has a great deal of work to do before he is perceived as the obvious successor.

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