Under communism, official election returns suggested that around 99 percent of the electorate voted. Since then, election turnout in Russia has declined dramatically, with the 2016 Duma election recording the lowest level of turnout since democratization. This paper uses national survey data collected just after the 2016 election to test four hypotheses to explain this low turnout, and to evaluate its consequences for party support. The results show that a voter’s resources, the degree of mobilization and his or her sense of efficacy all influence the probability of voting. A belief in electoral integrity also matters, but only insofar as it is related to support for the Putin regime. The level of differential turnout across the regions in the 2016 election was exceptional. Both aggregate and individual level analyses confirm that United Russia gained considerably from the higher turnout that occurred in the remoter regions, and from lower turnout in the urban regions. United Russia has pursued a strategy of voter demobilization in areas of low support, and this explains its continuing electoral success.
Kirill Rogov, Russia’s 2016 Duma Elections: Ambiguous Triumph and New Challenges for the Regime (Helsinki: Finnish Institute of International Affairs Briefing Paper No 205, 2016): 5, http://www.fiia.fi/en/publications/?year=0&prog=0&q=&p=0&tags=5&ofs=10 (accessed 4 September 2017).
Nikolay Petrov, “Putin’s Gamble on Russia’s Duma Elections”, European Council on Foreign Relations, 8 September 2016. Available from http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_putins_gamble_on_russias_duma_elections_7109 (accessed 4 September 2017).
Vladimir Gel’man, “The Politics of Fear: How Russia’s Rulers Counter their Rivals”, Russian Politics1, no. 1 (2016): 27–45. See also Derek S. Hutcheson, “Contextualizing the 2016 State Duma Election”, Russian Politics 2, no. 4 (2017), 383–410.
See Benny Geys, “Explaining Voter Turnout: A Review of Aggregate Level Research”Electoral Studies25, no. 6 (2006): 637–663; Joao Cancela and Benny Geys, “Explaining Voter Turnout: A Meta-Analysis of National and Subnational Elections”, Electoral Studies 42, no. 3 (2016): 264–275.
Melanee Thomas, “The Complexity Conundrum: Why Hasn’t the Gender Gap in Subjective Political Competence Closed?”Canadian Journal of Political Science45, no. 4 (2012): 337–358; Verba, Burns and Schlozman, Voice and Equality.
Eric Plutzer, “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources and Growth in Young Adulthood”, American Political Science Review96, no. 1 (2002): 41–56; Daniel Rubenson, André Blais, Patrick Fournier, Elisabeth Gidengil and Neil Nevitte, “Accounting for the Age Gap in Turnout”, Acta Politica 39, no. 3 (2004): 407–421.
Ian McAllister and Stephen White, “Public Perceptions of Electoral Fairness in Russia”, Europe-Asia Studies63, no. 6 (2011): 663–683; Ian McAllister and Stephen White, “Electoral Integrity and Support for Democracy in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine”, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 25, no. 1 (2015): 78–96.
Until2014, there were 83 federal subjects (units). Two regions, the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol, were then added to make a total of 85, although both are internationally recognized to be part of Ukraine.
See Goodnow et al., “Ethnicity and Electoral Manipulation”; Rogov, Russia’s 2016 Duma Elections; A.C. White, “Electoral Fraud”.