An overview is given of the 2016 Russian State Duma election, and its significance for the current Russian regime. As the first in a series of five articles in this edition of Russian Politics, it sets the 2016 State Duma election into context. It begins by discussing the role of the Duma in Russian politics, and reviews political developments between the protests that followed the 2011 parliamentary election, and the successful conclusion of the 2016 one. It then examines how institutional and political changes came together in the 2016 campaign. The resultant supermajority for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party is analyzed, before the remaining articles in this issue – which examine the issues of turnout, voting behavior, electoral manipulation and the future of the regime – are introduced.
Because of the predicable outcomes of recent Russian elections, voters are often characterized as passive actors in the electoral process. However, as we show in this article, political and social factors still underpin the motivations for people’s voting behavior. The article analyzes voting behavior in the 2016 State Duma election, using a post-election, nationally representative survey to assess the differences between the four parliamentary parties’ support bases. It finds that voting decisions in the 2016 election were strongly related to voters’ attitudes to the national president, Vladimir Putin, as well as to their attitudes to corruption and the economic situation. Voters who were more positive to the president and viewed the economic crisis more benignly were more likely to vote for the ‘party of power’, United Russia. Moreover, the four parties’ electorates had distinctive social profiles that were consistent with long-term patterns established in previous State Duma elections.
In July 2020, Russian voters gave strong support to a package of constitutional reforms that reconfigured the Russian political system and enshrined social guarantees and conservative identity values, consolidating the regime that has been built over a 20-year period. This was achieved through an alteration that ‘zeroed’ presidential terms that commenced before the constitutional change, potentially allowing President Vladimir Putin to overcome term limits and continue in office beyond 2024. The article explains how such a far-reaching and important change was successfully endorsed by the Russian electorate. The analysis shows that the main explanation rests with variations in voting patterns across the regions, a pattern that has been evident in previous Russian elections and resulted in strong pro-Putin support. The article also evaluates questions raised about the legitimacy of the result, and its long-term significance for the Russian political system.