Regional Voting in Russia' s Federal Elections and Changing Regional Deference to the Kremlin

William Reisinger, Bryon Moraski
2009 unpublished
As problems with the competitiveness of Russian elections have grown more widely agreed upon and more extensive, election data have ceased to be a useful tool for illuminating the values and voting behavior of Russian citizens. Even when the published results from a particular precinct, city or region are not entirely fraudulent, they are shaped--to extents that vary by place and are difficult to ascertain with precision but that have been well documented--by various pressures on voters, a
more » ... s on voters, a controlled information environment and assorted dirty tricks. Scholars cannot reliably determine from voting results what voters in Irkutsk would do differently from voters in Moscow. Electoral data may, however, remain valuable for illuminating other aspects of Russian politics. We explore the regional outcomes of Russian federal elections for clues about elite control over politics within their regions. We focus on each region's a) voting support for the incumbent or incumbent-supported presidential candidate, b) voting support for the so-called "party of power" in legislative races and c) level of voter turnout in presidential and legislative races. Each of these outcomes has been politicized in Russian politics such that they are relevant to understanding regional elite dynamics even when regional elections are undemocratically conducted or the results fraudulent. We first present and discuss the regional distributions of these three electoral results for all ten federal elections from 1991 to 2008. We then present and discuss a measure developed from those election results that indicate regional elites' abilities to control electoral outcomes during each of four different electoral "cycles" (a legislative and presidential race in close time proximity): 1995/-. Increasing numbers of those regional leaderships possessing such control use it to support the federal executive authority, which we refer to as deference to the Kremlin. We end with an analysis of the regions' different "trajectories"--that is, how their scores on our measure change from the first electoral cycle to the last. While some of our findings confirm well known patterns, our analyses provide more descriptive specificity about differences among the regions at a given time as well as about how each changes over time. They also permit analytic efforts to explain these patterns, and our analyses here do suggest some unexpected points. Russia's "ethnic" regions become deferential earlier and remain so more strongly. We find, though, interesting variation even within this category of region. The percent of the region's population that is ethnically Russian is a more finely tuned predictor than a region's constitutional status per se. It performs more strongly in multivariate equations and retains a powerful impact even in distinguishing among the ethnic regions. In all cases, the lower the proportion of ethnic Russians in the Reisinger and Moraski, Regional Voting -2 region, the higher the deference to the Kremlin. Extremely high levels of voting for Kremlin is associated with extremely high levels of voter turnout at the regional level. We show that levels of deference to the Kremlin that are high enough to suggest elite manipulation begin to be evident in 1995. While such levels spread to a much broader share of Russia's regions from 2003 on, it is not a Putin-period phenomenon. High deference levels show only weak geographical clustering or over-time contagion across contiguous regions. In terms of how different regions change from 1995 through 2008, it is not the changes in regional conditions from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s that accounts for this change; rather, it is the initial differences among the regions, primarily the percent of ethnic Russians in the population, that drives explains the most highly deferential. Intriguingly, change since 1995 has different explanations depending on whether a region is ethnic or non-ethnic. For the non-ethnic regions, urbanization and socioeconomic development has a strong influence, with high levels pushing regions away from deference to the Kremlin, as expected. Within the group of ethnic regions, while urbanization has no impact, the percent of Russian has the same strong impact even though the ethnic regions share a relatively lower percentage of Russians compared to the non-ethnic regions. Russia's ethnic and non-ethnic regions are on separate trajectories of relations with the federal center to an extent not yet sufficiently analyzed. Federal Election Results at the Regional Level Russia's post-Soviet federal elections have been extensively studied (see, for example, Belin and