Since yesterday, the following image from an article by liberal journalist Evgenya Albats has been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows that whereas Putin’s official tally was 65%, independent observers put it close to or below the 50% marker that would necessitate a second round, such as Golos’ 51% and Citizen Observer’s 45%. Predictably, these figures were seized upon by the liberals to condemn the legitimacy of the elections. As Putin ended up getting 63.6%, while the average of all observers was 50.2%, one could conclude that the level of fraud was 13% or more.
However, as pointed out by Kireev, this is a gross misuse of statistics for political ends, because of the severe sampling problems: Golos observers were concentrated in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and a few other large cities where Putin is less popular, while Citizen Observer is almost entirely confined to the capital. The website http://sms.golos.org/ collates the results from all the big Russian observer projects, and from the regional data, we can see that about half the election protocols compiled to create these figures were from Moscow; almost another quarter were from Moscow oblast and St.-Petersburg.
Nonetheless, while looking through the regional data, I realized that if it were to be adjusted for its pro-Moscow (anti-Putin) sampling bias, we could get a fairly a good estimate for the level of fraud in this election; or at least, an upper limit for it. And so that’s what I proceeded to do.
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.