And by some estimates vote-rigging added at least ten percentage points to Mr Putin’s tally. The main victim was Mikhail Prokhorov, a business tycoon and the only fresh face in the election. Officially he got 8%. His real vote was probably nearly twice that, says the League of Voters, a group set up by civil activists after a rigged parliamentary election in December.
Note that the “at least” (my emphasis) part is supposed to give the impression that Putin’s result may well have been less than the 50% needed to avoid a second round, thus making him illegitimate.
They totally glide over the inconvenient fact that the League of Voters observers were concentrated in Moscow, where the results are naturally lowest. Even Dmitry Oreshkin, the head of the project, is forced to admit this even if he does do a lot of weaseling about in the process: “Most likely, our sample isn’t entirely adequate.” As I showed in this post this is a detail that CARDINALLY changes the picture.
Analysis of the election data is now trickling in, so I feel I can now make some real preliminary estimates of the degree of fraud (eventually, I will compile a list of estimates as I did for the 2011 elections). My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated.
The most reliable evidence, in my opinion, is the FOM exit poll which gave Putin a vote of 59.3% in contrast to the 63.6% official tally – a difference of slightly more than 4%. (VCIOM gave him 58.3%, but I consider it slightly less reliable: It polled 63 regions, to FOM’s 81, and the missing regions included places like Ossetia and Daghestan where support for Putin is higher than average – even if so is the level of falsifications). Below is a table of regional falsifications, courtesy of Kireev. As you can see, the highest discrepancies between official and exit poll results – and the only ones exceeds the margin of error – are now in Federal Districts with many national ethnic minority republics: North Caucasus (Daghestan, Chechnya, etc), the Urals (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan), and the South (Kalmykia, Adygea). Across Russia as a whole, the discrepancy was 4.3%, relative to 6.3% in 2011.
Latest results are getting in that Putin got 63.8%. That a second round would be avoided was never really in serious doubt for the past month, nonetheless the election would still be important from several other perspectives, such as the level of falsifications (in particular, in comparison with 2011), and the relative performance of Zhirinovsky, Mironov, and Prokhorov.
I’m afraid there was still substantial fraud, greater than the 2%-3% I predicted (relative to 5%-7% in the Duma elections). The FOM exit poll gave Putin 59.3% (80,000 respondents, 81 regions), the VCIOM exit poll gave him 58.3% (159,000 respondents, 63 regions). That is a 5% point discrepancy that is too big to explain by their margins of error. In particular, the results from large parts of the North Caucasus remain as hopelessly ridiculous as ever.
That said, there were improvements, especially in Moscow. Putin got 48.7% there. This is close to, if still higher, than the 45.1% recorded in Golos observer protocols. The Citizen Observer initiative says he got 47%. (Recall that United Russia, which always lags Putin by 10%-15%, got 46.6% in Moscow in 2011, whereas Putin got only 2% points higher; this is further, if indirect, evidence of mass falsifications in 2011).
“Despite it being a sad and fearful prospect, in my opinion a totalitarian reversion for a certain period of time is possible. But the danger lies not in the law enforcement agencies, the power organs, and not even the Army, but in our own mentalities – our people’s, our population’s, in ourselves. It all seems to us – and I admit it, at times it seems that way to me as well – that if we restore order with a firm hand then our lives will become better, more comfortable, and more secure. In fact, this sense of comfort will pass by quickly, because that same firm hand will soon start to strangle us. We will feel it on ourselves and on our families. It is only under a democratic system that officers from the law enforcement agencies – whether they are the KGB, MVD, NKVD, or go by some other name – know that tomorrow could see a replacement of the political leadership in their country, region, or city, and that they would have to answer this question: “Did you comply with the laws of your country? How did you treat the citizens under your power?” – Vladimir Putin, 1996.
“When Russia has no Tsar, there appears a Time of Troubles. When the supreme power weakens, civil war flares up. You understand, the precise name – Tsar, President, General Secretary, Chairman of the Supreme Council – has no relevance whatsoever. There has to be a strong power, a strong executive. If there is no strong power – there will be no united Russia, but constant wheeling-dealings, violence and reprisals.” - Boris Nemtsov, 1997.
Despite Olga Kryshtanovskaya’s disapproval, I thought it would be interesting and useful to compile a comprehensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls and other evidence.
In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is supported by several statistical analyses; its adherents include the liberal and non-systemic opposition. The 5% Club argues that United Russia should not have gotten a Duma majority, but many of their proponents believe that the elections are legitimate nonetheless. Estimates range from 2% to 10%, with a wealth of opinion polling and statistical analysis in support. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.
In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin’s claims that fraud was minimal. But there was also a third set of evidence. Whatever problems Russia may have, a lack of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians and programmers certainly isn’t one of them. In the hours and days after the results were announced, these wonks drew on the Central Electoral Commission’s own figures to argue the statistical impossibility of the election results. The highest of these fraud estimates were adopted as fact by the opposition. Overnight, every politologist in the country – or at least, every liberal politologist – became a leading expert on Gaussian distributions and number theory.
While I don’t want to decry Churov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, for making subjects many people gave up back in 8th grade fun and interesting again, I would like to insert a word of caution: lots of math and numbers do not necessarily prove anything, and in fact – generally speaking – the more math and numbers you have the less reliable your conclusions (not making this up: the research backs me up on this). Complicated calculations can be rendered null and void by simple but mistaken assumptions; the sheer weight of figures and fancy graphs cannot be allowed to crowd out common sense and strong diverging evidence. Since the most (in)famous of these models asserts that United Russia stole 15% or more of the votes, it is high time to compile a list of alternate models and fraud estimates that challenge that extremely unlikely conclusion – unlikely, because if it were true, it would essentially discredit the entirety of Russian opinion polling for the last decade.
In this post, I will compile a list of models built by Russian analysts of the scale of electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. I will summarize them, including their estimates of aggregate fraud in favor of United Russia, and list their possible weak points. The exercise will show that, first, the proper methodology is very, very far from settled and as such all these estimates are subject to (Knightian) uncertainty; but second, many of them converge to around 5%-7%, which is about the same figure as indicated by the most comprehensive exit poll. This is obviously very bad but still a far cry from the most pessimistic and damning estimates of 15%+ fraud, which would if they were true unequivocally delegitimize the Russian elections.
Citing evidence revolving around pre-elections opinion polls and exit polls, in my Al Jazeera article on the Russian Duma elections I made the argument that “the aggregate level of falsifications is probably at around five per cent, and almost certainly less than ten per cent” (with the caveat that it was far worse in several regions, including – and controversially to some commentators on this blog – Moscow). Since then, the main polling organizations have released a series of post-elections polls, and pre-elections polls that could not be legally published on the eve of the elections that appear to confirm my initial judgment*.
First up was VCIOM, a week ago. We remind that their exit poll predicted 48.5% for United Russia (final result: 49.3%), which is well within the margin of error. Their new polls seem to confirm this. In their Nov 26 poll and their Nov 30 poll, some 37% and 41% said they were going to vote for United Russia, respectively; after the elections, in Dec 10, this had dropped to 35%. However, one has to bear in mind that only 72%, 75%, and 76% respectively displayed a preference for any one party; the rest said they wouldn’t participate, hadn’t decided or couldn’t answer, or intended to spoil their ballots. Adjusting for these, of committed voters some 51% and 55% said they intended to vote for United Russia in the week before the elections on Dec 4 (average 53%, i.e. basically no change from Nov 20)*. The result from Dec 10 indicates a fall to 46% electoral support, but this is after several days of fraud allegations and very negative PR against United Russia and as such not too reliable. The post-elections slide in support for the party of power appears to have been a one-off; as of Dec 17, one percentage point more said they would vote for United Russia.
In the spirit of democracy, I am adopting Alexander Kireev’s poll (kireev) to ask you guys what YOU think about how falsified these elections were. Please read the explanations of each option before voting, and to only judge these elections at the Russia level (as opposed to individual cities or districts). And don’t ballot stuff like La Russophobe!