A closer look at voting intentions and support for various parties

Judging by regional opinion poll results, at this stage it appears that United Russia can count on 42-44% of the vote in the December 2 election; leaving 18-20% for the Communists, 11-13% for Just Russia, and 7-9% for the LDPR.

We have obtained copies of reports from two rounds of opinion polls commissioned by the presidential administration. The first was done in May 2007 by the 7/89 Association of Regional Polling Agencies, covering 14 cities. The second was done in July 2007 by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), covering 68 regions of the Russian Federation.

The first round of polls is interesting because it measured not only “firm” ratings (the percentage of respondents who have already decided to vote for particular parties), but also “soft” ratings (the percentage of respondents who say they might vote for particular parties). As the March round of regional legislature elections showed, both the firm and soft ratings are equally important for accurate forecasting. Moreover, the final election results are closer to the firm rating for some parties, and closer to the soft rating for others.

United Russia, for example, almost always gets the votes of its firm supporters only; it almost never gets a boost from voters who were initially undecided. This is entirely natural: since voters see United Russia on television more often than any other party, United Russia builds up its maximal support figures well ahead of elections – those who decide to vote for it have made their decisions well in advance.

For the Communist Party (CPRF), the situation is reversed. The CPRF usually gets little media coverage; so some of its potential voters, not seeing the CPRF in the media, describe themselves as undecided voters. They reveal their preferences when they are reminded once again that a party with views close to their own does exist. This may not happen until they reach the polling station. Thus, the CPRF’s final results are almost always closer to its soft rating – that is, its maximal potential results.

The poll shows that 2% to 11% of respondents across 14 cities firmly intend to vote for Just Russia; but 6% to 24% allow for the possibility of voting for Just Russia. The CPRF’s situation is similar.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is more like United Russia: it doesn’t pick up many undecided voters.

But the greatest boost from undecided voters in the March-April regional elections went to the Union of Right Forces (SPS). And the final result for the SPS almost always exceeded not only its firm rating, but even its initial soft rating. In the Krasnoyarsk territory, for example, the SPS had a firm rating of 0.35% and a soft rating of 1% three weeks before the election – but its eventual result was 7.25% of the vote. The reason for this “incredible” growth was that the SPS used precision-targeted techniques and slogans. The idea of raising state-sector salaries and pensions to European standards got a lot of support. The SPS said: if EU countries spend 12% of GDP on pensions, why is Russia spending only 4.6%? Let’s bring our GDP up to European standards, and pensions will increase by 250% even if GDP stays the same. Not surprisingly, this kind of campaigning won the votes of some cirizens who had never intended to vote for the SPS at all.

As well as potential boosts from undecided voters, there’s another important factor to take into account: voter turnout variations between the electorates of different parties. The poll done in 14 cities (8,500 respondents) showed that 89% of CPRF supporters intend to vote, along with 80% of United Russia supporters, 80% of Just Russia supporters, and only 64% of LDPR supporters. This last figure is particularly surprising, given that around 70% of all respondents say they intend to vote. So the LDPR’s share of the vote may proved to be even lower than its firm rating in opinion polls.

In the FOM polls, the average firm ratings are as follows: 33.9% for United Russia, 7.9% for the CPRF, 5.4% for the LDPR, 4.6% for Just Russia, and 1.2% for the SPS.

However, United Russia’s percentage varies noticeably across different regions. It is 51.2-51.8% in Mordovia and Tatarstan, 48.7% in the Pskov region, and 45.4-45.7% in Udmurtia. But it’s only 24.1% in St. Petersburg (according to the FOM; the 7/89 group puts it as low as 20.4%); and it’s 26.7% in the Stavropol territory, 28.9% in the Krasnoyarsk territory, 27.9% in Karelia, 28.3% in the Vladimir region, 25.4% in the Tula region, 28.2% in the Tula region, and 27% in the Sakhalin region. United Russia’s rating is also low in the Kuban and Primorye, and in the Nizhny Novgorod, Amur, and Magadan regions; but it could still make up lost ground in these regions, since they have very high proportions of undecided voters (55-68%). Besides, many regional leaders are very popular and have already proven their ability to boost United Russia’s support rating. In March 2006, for example, in the Nizhny Novgorod regional legislature election, United Russia’s candidate list – headed by Governor Valery Shantsev – got 43.9% of the vote.

According to the FOM polls in July, the average support rating for the CPRF was 7.9%. It was highest (13-13.4%) in Marii El and Mordovia, along with the Kaluga, Orel, and Tver regions and the Krasnoyarsk territory; it was 11.4-11.7% in the Ulianovsk, Bryansk, and Kursk regions. But the CPRF shouldn’t really expect a strong result in Mordovia. This is one of those regions where results mostly depend on how the votes are counted, not how people actually vote: United Russia set a nationwide record of 76% here in the 2003 Duma election – somehow “getting” 99-100% of the vote in certain districts, as compared to 38-56% in districts where vote-counting was properly monitored.

The CPRF’s rating is low in the Magadan and Sverdlovsk regions and the Primorye territory (2.7-3.4%); it is also low in the Perm territory, Udmurtia, the Vologda, Novgorod, and Kirov regions, and the Khanty-Mansi autonomous district (4.5-5%).

Judging by regional opinion poll results, and with all the abovementioned factors taken into account, at this stage it appears that United Russia can count on 42-44% of the vote in the December 2 election; leaving 18-20% for the CPRF, 11-13% for Just Russia, and 7-9% for the LDPR. But there are still three months of campaigning ahead, and much could change.