United Russia is planning a patriotic campaign

All forecasts indicate that voter turnout in this year’s Duma election will hit a record low. So even if United Russia gets its promised 45-46% of the vote, low turnout will make this seem unconvincing. The party’s political strategists have a weapon in reserve: it’s called patriotism.

Moscow’s political offices are almost deserted. The parliament is on vacation; party bosses have gone away for their “well-earned rest.” But they didn’t leave with light hearts. Although most of the campaign money has already been shared out, some disquiet persists. The reason: all forecasts indicate that voter turnout will hit a record low. So even if United Russia gets its promised 45-46% of the vote, low turnout will make this show of public confidence seem thin and unconvincing.

United Russia wishes – even hopes – that its victory laurels might be gilded by gaining Vladimir Putin as its official leader; but it’s not at all certain that Putin will be inspired by the prospect of leading the party of sovereign bureaucracy. Certain PR consultancies have already received their assignment for autumn: coming up with some lures to convince citizens to vote. The objective is not only to win the election, but to make the kind of breakthrough that would persuade the people and the president that United Russia is our country’s future and the future of the president. No expense will be spared. United Russia is urgently recruiting millionaires.

Convincing voters won’t be easy. Turnout will be more strongly influenced by the prices of carrots, cabbage, and gasoline than by political comedy routines starring the usual crowd that dances around the party.

Even the Kremlin seems to realize that the days of simple slogans like “vote or lose out” have passsed. The people don’t want to see a dancing Yeltsin; they want to know about the prices of commuter train tickets, medications, and bread. It’s hardly surprising that Moscow grew alarmed when agriculture managers made some untimely comments about a poor harvest and an inevitable rise of bread prices. These improper forecasts were immediately revised to produced a new conclusion: “the grain harvest will be so large that we don’t know how we’ll manage to gather it all.”

Deep down, United Russia’s leaders are still hoping that as the Duma election approaches, the party-neutral president will wink in United Russia’s direction after all. But aside from the popular president who will “sort everything out in good time,” the party’s political strategists and campaign consultants have another weapon in reserve. Among themselves, they call it a weapon of mass destruction. They’re talking about patriotism.

At one of the gatherings where well-known political consultants salivate over slices of campaign funding, some spoke enviously of the situation in the United States, where “four-fifths of Americans believe in patriotism”: if only we could manage even a 50% belief rate for the campaign period, they said.

What is there to say about this? It’s sad, of course, that Russian citizens aren’t very patriotic about the symbols of the new faith. They still haven’t grown accustomed to Russia’s new coat of arms; they don’t know the words to the national anthem; they’re not filled with pride at the sight of the tricolor flag; and they hold members of parliament in contempt.

This is hardly surprising. The VTsIOM polling agency’s list of the top ten events that make people feel proud of their Fatherland (victory in World War II, Yuri Gagarin’s space flight, the launch of Sputnik, and so on) doesn’t include any post-1991 events. That’s why we’re so happy that Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics: we have almost forgotten what it’s like to feel proud of our country. But we want to!

So far, Russian citizens don’t have too many reasons to feel proud of Russia. How will this affect voting? Wait and see.