Levada on Putin and the Russians

A fascinating new poll has has just been published by Levada, the most respected pollster remaining in Putin’s Russia.

The poll reveals that if a presidential election were held tomorrow, only 29% of Russians would be committed to voting for Putin to take a fourth term.  By contrast, a whopping 57% of the electorate would either plan not to vote or would have no idea who to vote for.  It’s conclusive proof that Putin simply does not have the country behind him.

Putin’s level of support, well less than one-third of the country, is roughly the same today as it was back in 2009 during the depths of the worst financial crisis of the Putin era. That’s hardly surprising, given that Russia is currently headed into what the Kremlin admits will be a decade or more of economic stagnation and what could well be double-dip recession.

The poll shows that the Putin regime has been successful in its efforts to grind down its opponents.  Communist Gennady Zyuganov, for example, the leading Kremlin challenger at the ballot box ever since the fall of the USSR, has fallen from 12% support in the late 1990s to just 5% today. No other potential candidate polls even as high as 4%.  Alexei Navalny, disqualified from running by his criminal conviction, isn’t even in the conversation.  But this support hasn’t moved to Putin, it has simply become disenchanted.

The same thing occurs when reviewing Russian attitudes towards Putin’s party of power, United Russia.  Support for the party is even lower than it was in 2009, again less than one-third of Russians embracing it.  But the Communist Party has been ground down to a nub, receiving just 10% support whereas in 2002 it was at 17%. Only the parties of Prokhorov and Zhirinovksy poll better than 2% support.  But 46% of Russians say that if the election were held today they either wouldn’t vote or would have no idea who to vote for.  In an epic humiliation, Navalny’s party polls just 1% support, clearly indicting his total collapse.

So while Putin has succeeded in poisoning all opposition candidates and parties, such that his support remains vastly greater than any of them, he is increasingly alienating a large block of citizens from the entire electoral process.  His policies and practices have given rise to appalling cynicism, which will only encourage Russia to be more corrupt and less progressive as it enters a period when it can little afford to be either.

The Russian belief that there is no alternative to Putin is also very much inconsistent with Putin’s mortality:  Who will run Russia when Putin is no more?  Putin himself seems to believe this notion as well, just as Lenin and Stalin and Brezhnev did before him. That is why Putin is not even attempting to groom a successor.  Putin likely understands that grooming a successor would create the opportunity for someone to challenge his power, and that’s not something he’s willing to risk.  But it creates extremely dark clouds over Russia’s future to know that upon Putin’s demise the country will descend into utter chaos.

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Levada Writes an Epitaph for Navalny

Alexei NavalnyLevada’s latest poll (Russian-language link) regarding Alexei Navalny is bad news almost beyond words. It is a political epitaph.

The stunning bottom line:  only 9.7% of Russian citizens both know who Navalny is and would consider voting for members of his political party as candidates for the State Duma. An overwhelming 67% of Russians who know Navalny would not vote for his team.

But there is even worse news for Navalny:  That 9.7% number is even smaller than it was one month ago. Then, 10.3% of Russian citizens both knew who Navalny was and would consider voting for his party.  Navalny is getting weaker, not stronger, as his name recognition is growing. While 51% of Russians knew who Navalny was a month ago, 54% do now.

As for Navalny personally, just 16.2% of Russians both know who he is and have an opinion that is somehow positive about him.  10.8% of those who know him have an opinion that is somehow negative, while the overwhelming majority of Russians either have no idea who Navalny is or know and don’t care.  49% of those who know Navalny have no opinion about him.

Levada didn’t ask its respondents whether they would consider voting for Navalny personally, but that 9.7% who would vote for his party is almost the exact share of the Moscow electorate that Navalny collected when he ran for Mayor.  It appears there is a glass ceiling over Navalny’s head around ten percent.

Navalny faces a whole new round of prosecutions by the Kremlin, and Putin has just upped the ante by actually seizing Navalny’s financial assets, the same thing that happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This move will make it that much more difficult for Navalny to pay his lawyers and defend himself, and makes it clear that the Kremlin has Navalny firmly in its cross hairs.  It’s equally clear that Navalny does not have the kind of political support in the population that might serve to protect him from the Kremlin’s attacks.

Sean Guillory, Getting Russia Wrong

Almost two years ago, right after the most recent elections to the Russian Duma, Russia blogger Sean Guillory penned a tract for Aljazeera about the state of politics in Putin’s Russia.  It’s interesting to review what (little) he got right and what he (mostly) got wrong.

Guillory wrote: “The remaining question was how the public, which so far had been apathetic and acquiescent, would respond when given the opportunity to speak through the ballot box. It’s often said that electoral politics in Russia is dead. If so, then Sunday’s elections was a defibrillator to the political heart of the polity.”

Wrong. In fact, five million fewer Russians went to the polls in 2011 than had done so four years earlier.  Russians showed themselves to be much less interested in electoral politics in 2011 compared to 2007. It’s simply incredible that Guillory could ignore the voter turnout data, apparently because it didn’t fit his narrative.

Guillory wrote: “United Russia lost its predicted supermajority, barely holding on to a simple one. Medvedev was on the horn trying to get the Communists, Just Russia, the Liberal Democrats – anyone – to agree to a coalition government.  ”

Wrong.

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Comparing Levada to Reality on Moscow Mayor Poll

In its poll published right before the election for Moscow Mayor (Russian-language link), the country’s most-respected pollster Levada reported that 52% of Moscow voters had told it they planned to come out on election day and cast their ballot (this number was clearly hedged, however, since more than half of it was comprised by people who said it was only “very likely” that they’d vote, not sure).

Moscow has roughly 7.25 million eligible voters. Thus, Levada was indicating that up to  3.77 million Muscovites might be at the polls on election day.  Of those, Levada reported that 18% would vote for Alexei Navalny, or in other words that Navalny would collect about 678,600 votes.  By contrast, Levada reported, 58% would support incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, meaning the latter would rake in about 2,186,600 votes.  Levada’s data overstated the number of votes Navalny would get on election day (and the same for Sobyanin).

On election day, nauseatingly huge numbers of Muscovites stayed at home, far more than Levada’s data imagined could occur. This reduced the number of votes collected by all candidates, but the incumbent was affected most dramatically.

Navalny actually got only 632,697 votes for mayor, 45,903 (or 7%) less than Levada had predicted.  But Sobyanin suffered far more from the weak turnout, actually getting only 1,193,178 votes, roughly a stunning 992,822 (or 45%) less than Levada had predicted.  Sobyanin ended up with just over 51% of the total and Navalny with just over 27% because Navalny brought a larger percentage of his supporters to the polls than Sobyanin did.  It’s telling that Sobyanin could take this massive hit and still crush Navalny by such a wide margin.

Only 2,286,972 valid ballots were received on election day, roughly 1.5 million less than Levada’s data had shown there might be.  In other words, only 31% of Moscow voters actually cast ballots on election day, vastly fewer than Levada had suggested might do so.

So Levada was almost exactly right about the number of votes Navalny would get on election day, but it vastly overestimated the number of votes that would be cast and it failed to recognize that the vast majority of voters who would stay at home would be Sobyanin voters.  Levada said Navalny would get a fifth of half of the Moscow electorate to support him, but he ended up with less than third of less than a third of all Moscow voters supporting him.  However, Levada never asked the large group of potential voters who said they were very likely to vote but not sure who they planned to vote for. Hence, it’s not possible to claim that Levada was “wrong” about turnout. They clearly said the turnout figure was not guarantied, and they did not attempt to project what would happen if voters were overestimated their probability of going to the polls.

The low turnout for Sobyanin  was eminently predictable, however.   Given that Levada had predicted that Navalny, Sobyanin’s closest competitor, would lose in a massive forty-point landslide of over 1.5 million votes, many Sobyanin supporters could quite foreseeably have decided there was no need to bother voting.   Levada’s polling was actually quite helpful to Navalny, in other words, because it strongly encouraged Sobyanin to be overconfident and, like the famous hare who raced the tortoise, to slack off on his efforts to bring out the vote.

On the other hand, the outcome was still pretty shocking.  Given the sensational fact that Navalny had just been convicted of serious criminal charges and sentenced to prison for five years, given that this was the first “Western-style” election in Russia’s history, and given that Navalny had repeatedly said that his own fate and that of the country were riding on it, one might have expected turnout to exceed Levada’s prediction rather than falling vastly short of it.

When the dust had settled,  Sobyanin had defeated Navalny by “only” 24 points instead of 40 and by “only” half a million votes rather than a million and a half.  His margin was half what it could have been in terms or percentages, a third what it could have been in terms of votes numbers.  Had turnout been even lower, say about half what it actually was, Navalny might well have been elected Mayor. If it had been a quarter of what it actually was, Navalny might have won in a landslide.  For that matter, had only Navalny’s supporters gone to the polls, Sobyanin wouldn’t have received any votes at all!

For some contrast, in the last mayoral election in New York City the incumbent Michael Bloomberg also won, but defeated his rival by only 50,000 votes and just five points.  Sobyanin’s crushing margin of victory over Navalny was five times bigger than Bloomberg’s (ten times bigger if looking at number of votes in the margin rather than points), and Bloomberg was one of New York’s most well-respected mayors ever. Bloomberg got only 50.6% of the votes, a lower share than Sobyanin collected, and Sobyanin raked in more than twice as many votes as Bloomberg received.

The End of Navalny

Alexei NavalnyAn absolutely brutal new poll from Levada, Russia’s most trusted pollster, reveals horrific failure on the part of Alexei Navalny.

Following the saga of Navalny’s conviction, release and rejection at the polls in Moscow, Levada reports (Russian-language link) that if a presidential election were held this weekend Vladimir Putin would have twenty-five percent more support (that is seven more points) than he had before Navalny launched his campaign.

Just. Ouch.

Levada also reports that Putin’s “Party of Crooks and Thieves” (as Navalny has called it), United Russia, would have twenty percent more support (that is, five more points) than before Navalny’s campaign.

But wait, it gets worse.

Navalny’s personal numbers, and those of his party “People’s Alliance,” show absolutely no traction whatsoever. He hasn’t even cracked the 1.5% barrier.

Mind you, Russia is now headed for a double-dip recession. It hasn’t seen quarterly GDP growth rise in more than a year and half, and it has never fully recovered from the disastrous economic collapse of 2009.  Yet even in this climate, Navalny’s opposition movement can make no headway at all.  In its bastion of strength, Moscow, Navalny couldn’t even motivate half of the residents to go to the polls or even as much as 10% of them to support his alternative vision for Russia.

And now, of course, Navalny is headed to prison for five years, and he has not identified any successor who will pick up his flag and carry on while he is in prison.  That may well be for the best, though, because given the extent of his failure the Russian opposition is likely much better off starting with a clean slate.

Shocking Western Misreporting of Moscow Mayoral Election Results

Yesterday, the votes were counted in the first Moscow mayoral election in a decade.

Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin was reelected with 51.37% of the vote (roughly 1.2 million votes).  The runner-up was Alexei Navalny, who finished a whopping 24.13 points behind Sobyanin (collecting roughly 630,000 votes), who in turn nearly doubled Navalny’s vote total.  It was an absolute blowout, and Echo of Moscow radio declared it the cleanest Russian election in history so the issue of cheating by Sobyanin was off the table.

The only bright spot for Navalny was that just days before the election the Levada polling agency had pegged his support at 18%.  He got roughly the same number of votes as Levada predicted, but his share of the total was much larger because, shockingly, Sobyanin did a disgraceful job of getting his voters to the polling place.  Levada had shown Sobyanin with a dominant 60% share of the vote, but apparently overconfident and lazy Sobyanin’s forces sat back and let a big chunk of their support sit out the election.  But Navalny still ended up more than 30,000 votes short of forcing Sobyanin into a runoff.

And this bright spot was more than overshadowed by the astounding fact that two-thirds of Moscow voters (there are roughly 7.25 million of them) did likewise, simply ignoring what Navalny had claimed was the most important election in Russian history.  The world got the clear message that Russians simply don’t care about reform or change even as Putin pushes the Russian economy into a double-dip recession.  It was one of the most depressing moments of recent Russian history.  Moreover, as we previously reported Levada’s polling revealed the astounding fact that far more Muscovites said the would never, ever vote for Navalny than said they might do so. His negatives were far higher than his support. The notion that, as Navalny had repeatedly claimed, Moscow stood behind him and would show it given a fair chance, was absolutely blown to smithereens.

The utterly depressing voter turnout was made worse by absolutely godawful reporting from much of the Western press.

The Financial Times called Sobyanin’s win “narrow” and Fox News called it “close.” Narrow? Close? The actual fact was that Sobyanin won in a massive landslide, collecting twice as many votes as his nearest rival.  Granted, Sobyanin was “close” to being forced into a second-round runoff with Navalny, but in such a runoff election he would have utterly crushed Navalny, not least because of the wake-up call about mobilizing his support.

The headline on the article from the New York Times was that Navalny “says he can force  runoff.”  The entire lead paragraph is devoted to libelous speculation that the result might have been rigged simply because Navalny, who never reached 20% in the pre-election polls, did not win.  Navalny’s only “evidence” of fraud was the his own campaign’s exit polls showed him getting 7 points more support than he was allocated and Sobyanin five points less.  The NYT falsely claims that Navalny “defied expectations” when in fact he did no such thing. Expectations were defied, and brutally disappointed, by the voters of Moscow who sat home in droves, clearly showing they could not care less who rules Moscow.  There is zero evidence that Navalny got significantly more people to vote for him than pre-election polls indicated would do so.

But the most disgraceful reporting of all came from the Guardian in a perfectly wretched piece of garbage from Alex Luhn.  We’re not surprised by this, since the Guardian is the publisher of Miriam Elder, one of the worst Russia correspondents in the history of journalism.  The Guardian claimed that Vladimir Putin, who wasn’t even a candidate in the race, had got his “nose bloodied” by Navalny. It touted Navalny’s statement that the results had been falsified while totally ignoring the fact that nearly every Russian source said that the poll was mostly clean, and likewise ignoring the fact that the Kremlin had actively assisted Navalny in getting on the ballot in the first place. It completely ignore the pathetic level of voter turnout, which meant that in the end a mere 7.5% of all Moscow voters had gone to the polls to support Navalny.  And it ignored the fact that everywhere across the country Putin’s party of power prevailed, except in Ekaterinburg where for a second time the elected mayor is an opposition figure, clearly showing that it is possible for the right opposition candidate to prevail. Interestingly, the opposition candidate in E-burg did not come close to getting a majority but will take office anyway, because there is no requirement of getting a majority in E-burg.  So the standard Navalny wants to impose in Moscow would block the opposition victory in E-burg.

The type of repulsive, nauseating journalistic cheerleading engaged in by the Guardian and other so-called journalists who actively rooted for Navalny, urging him on and ignoring Navalny’s egregious faults (as we previously reported, AFP’s Maria Antonova was a noteworthy exception, highlighting Navalny’s blatant racism), hardly sets the right standard for Russian journalists to emulate and does the opposition movement no favors.  Navalny is a very weak candidate and a very weak leader, who has clearly shown he can’t motivate large number of Russians to join him in his crusade against Putin.  Better reporting might have encouraged a better candidate to come forward.  The opposition has instead squandered its best chance to actually influence politics in Russian capital.

For the third time, Navalny has failed to alter the results of a Russian election as he promised. First Navalny promised he would force a second Duma vote, and it didn’t happen. Then he swore he’d force Putin into a second presidential vote, but that didn’t happen either. And now his promise of actually winning the Moscow mayoral ballot, or at least forcing the incumbent into a runoff, has exploded in his face as well.

Three strikes and you’re out, Mr. Navalny.

Levada Delivers Brutal Cold Facts to Navalny

A pair of recent polls by Levada, Russia’s most-respected polling company, pours icy cold water on the political fantasies involving Alexei Navalny.

The first poll addresses the Kremlin’s prosecution of Navalny in Kirov for alleged corruption.  The second poll deals with Navalny’s quixotic bid for Mayor of Moscow.  Both links are in Russian.

The news these polls deliver to Navalny is relentlessly, brutally bad.

The polls reveal that at most less than a third of Russians know who Navalny is.  The one bit of good news is that among those in that tiny group the overwhelming majority, 67%, believe the charges against him in Kirov are politically motivated.   But that means that less than 15% of the Russian population agrees with Navalny’s closing statement in court that he is being persecuted. The rest have no idea what he’s talking about.

Similarly, the polls show that a mere 5% of likely voters intend to cast their ballots for Navalny, roughly the same number as plan to vote for the Communist Party candidate Ivan Melnikov.  A strong majority of 53%, by contrast, plans to support the incumbent mayor Sergei Sobyanin.  Only 32% of respondents said they knew who candidate Navalny was, compared to 89% for Sobyanin.

The conclusion to be drawn from these polls is inescapable:  Navalny has no chance of being elected Mayor of Moscow and no chance of causing a national scandal if sent to prison for many years.  Most Russians simply don’t know who he is, and don’t care. The reason for that is simple:  Navalny has focused exclusively on the Internet, which most Russians can’t access.  He has failed to raise significant funds and failed to use them to reach out to the main part of Russia’s population.

An Election in Russia?

On Monday, voting closed in the Russian opposition’s online election.  170,000 had signed up for the process, but only 98,000 actually took the trouble to document their identity.  Of the registered voters, only 82,000 actually went to the polls to cast their votes.

The spinning began immediately.

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The Russians are Russia’s Worst Enemy

Once again, the craven denizens of Russia have shown that they are by far the greatest threat to the survival of their country. They make Hitler look like Peter I.

I could have said this was another election stolen from the people, but I won’t.  The people have stolen this election from themselves. Such a turnout is a disgrace and an incredible help to fraudsters.

So wrote Russian blogger Viktor Troinov of the recent spate of local elections held in Putin’s Russia.

Only one in twenty eligible voters went to the polls to support Yevgenia Chirikova’s bid for Mayor of Khimiki, despite a massive avalanche of publicity from the glitterati of the Russian opposition.  Nationwide, two thirds or more of the electorate stayed home and ignored elections which the opposition had claimed were their new focus.  United Russia brutally crushed the opposition virtually everywhere, winning massive landslides in all regional and gubernatorial polls.

In the time of Stalin, Russians turned a blind eye or informed on their neighbors. They did not resist, they did not fight for their country’s future. The result was that the USSR collapsed into rubble. And now Russians have learned nothing, and they repeat the same ghastly error.

Once again, the leadership of the opposition has been proved totally fraudulent.  Yet another promise has been broken. First we were told they would force new Duma elections. It did not happen. Then they would force Putin into a runoff. Nope. Then they would vastly increase their street demonstrations. They did the opposite. And now, when they claimed that they would make up for all that failure by succeeding at the local level, once again they have utterly collapsed.  And through it all, there is not the slightest hint of introspection, of a change in leadership, of reform.

It is the beginning of the end for Russia.  As Leonid Bershidsky has written:   “The October 14 polls sent an unmistakable message: Electoral democracy as we know it is dying a slow, painful death under President Vladimir Putin.”  And make no mistake:  It is the people of Russia who are killing it, along with their children’s hope for a better, different life from the disastrous failure of the USSR.

Another Disastrous Demonstration in Moscow

Russia’s opposition movement turned to violence on Sunday, after it was embarrassed by yet another puny turnout.  It bloodied police officers and pro-Kremlin journalists and it vandalized property. It became a mob, and a small one at that.  Once again, Russia sunk to a new low.  Its only accomplishment was that finally it forced the Kremlin to escalate the violence used against it, but that came at the cost of losing its own credibility and being led by a throng of neo-Nazis (Udaltsov), crypto-fascists (Navalny), Communists and hopelessly confused, leaderless, agendaless followers.

Yevgenia Khvoshchinskaya, a 30-year-old education specialist who was carrying a poster referencing Russia’s Decembrist revolutionaries of the 19th century, told the New York Times:  “I don’t know why I came. The last protests did not achieve anything. There is no program. The people are tired.”

Photos after the jump.

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