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Regular version of the site

Good by, sovok!

The New Times. 16 сентября 2013

The main sensation of the elections that took place in the capital is that that the generation that does not remember Soviet power -- that is, those who are now 18-25 years of age -- and likewise, in particular, those who have found their feet in the last decade and do not need state handouts -- the category of 26-35-year-olds -- no longer want to invest their votes in Big Brother. They are choosing change, which today is personified in the image of Aleksey Navalnyy. 

Something happened that some analysts had been predicting: Muscovites' moral demands advanced during the 2011-2012 winter of protest have started to be transformed into political demands, and this has happened more rapidly than anybody had expected. According to the official figures, 27.2 percent of Muscovites cast their votes for Aleksey Navalnyy (in reality this figure may be somewhat higher). The candidates from the parliamentary parties -- the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), and Just Russia -- and the Yabloko party, which is totally embedded in the system, together garnered fewer votes than Aleksey Navalnyy.

An analysis of opinion poll data demonstrates that the main thing that unites his electorate is a wish for change in society and social justice. 

Polling problems

How can we be clear about what influences why a person is prepared to cast his vote for which candidate? In the course of an opinion poll it is possible to question several hundred or even several thousand respondents. Each of them can be asked dozens of questions ranging from the most basic -- age and education -- to ideological preferences and attitudes toward specific politicians. But simple numerical calculations -- such and such a percentage is fond of, say, cucumbers, while such a percentage is fond of tomatoes -- explains little. This is why there is a need for modern mathematical statistical methods that make it possible to calculate how an inclination to vote for a candidate depends on individual factors such as age, sex, political views, and so forth. We cannot predict accurately whether a given voter will vote for Navalnyy, for example, but we can say how education, sex, age, ideology, and other things influence the likelihood of such a vote. Some factors will be statistically significant -- that is to say, we will be able to draw an unequivocal conclusion as to whether or not they influence electoral behavior. And if they do, in which direction and to what extent. But there will also be insignificant factors with regard to which analysis does not provide an answer to the question of how they influence electoral choice.

Table 1 cites the results of such an analysis based on data from two polls. Each line in the table corresponds to one statistically significant factor (insignificant factors are not cited), and the figure in the neighboring column reflects the extent to which it influences the likelihood of a vote for this candidate.

Why Navalny?

The main thing determining Muscovites' readiness to vote for Aleksey Navalnyy is the desire for change. A recent poll conducted by the polling service of this candidate's campaign staff asked a question about how significantly the system of power in the capital needs to be changed. This is how Muscovites' electoral preferences were distributed depending on their response to this question:

The desire for change is partially linked to the extent to which a person is prepared to try to overcome the dangers surrounding him -- both those that affect him personally and those that have nothing to do with him. In other words, the extent to which a feeling of fear is inherent in an individual. In the same poll, the pollsters asked whether the respondent was afraid of street riots, epidemics, invalidity, and other undesirable events. Those who were prepared to vote for Navalnyy were less afraid than those intending to check the box alongside Sobyanin's name. This is not surprising: Fear, particularly fear of the future, of the unknown, is a very strong factor in politics: People wishing to preserve the status quo (as people used to say during Soviet times: "Just so long as there is not a war") and are afraid of any changes in their already established way of life are as a rule more acutely susceptible to various kinds of phobias and latent or manifest fears. 

Social media versus TV

The second most important factor that, according to our polls, influenced the choice between candidate Navalnyy and candidate Sobyanin was the source from which people obtained political information. There was a much smaller number of Navalnyy supporters among those who find out the news primarily from television. The effect of television is very strong -- in terms of influence it comes behind only the desire for change. State propaganda has not gone away, unfortunately, and is still a powerful means for influencing citizens' minds. But among users of social media and those who read Internet publications, the number of Navalnyy supporters is predictably greater; the aggregate effect of Internet publications and social media is almost equal in terms of potency to the effect of the "idiot box" (and inverse to it in terms of direction). But it is curious that the television and Internet audiences overlap to an appreciable extent: This means that that the conventional division of the electorate into the "television party" and the "Internet party" is too much of a simplification: Far from all users of social media and news websites were prepared to vote for Navalnyy. 

The Big Brother factor

The third most important factor is where a person spends his work day (see Table 1). First, pensioners were less inclined to support Navalnyy than people who are of the same age but are continuing to work. This is possibly a consequence of the fact that pensioners as a whole are more dependent on the city authorities, and also their range of contacts is significantly more one-dimensional. Second, support for Navalnyy is undoubtedly greater among entrepreneurs -- that is to say, financially independent people who are not dependent on state handouts -- than among public-sector workers. But people from worker trades, for example, are not inclined to support Navalnyy. As for other categories of citizens -- housewives, students, the unemployed -- then, all other things being equal, their electoral preferences are statistically indistinguishable from public-sector workers' political leanings. 

Diploma, age, sex

Education also plays a significant role. If we compare two people who differ only in terms of whether they have a higher education (and despite this, share the same income level and age and work in the same job and live in the same district), the person with a higher education will be more likely to turn out to be a Navalnyy supporter than a person without such an education and will also be more likely in general to vote. Both worldwide and Russian experience testifies that better-educated people are always better socialized and more politically savvy and politically active.

Age and sex are factors that have a great influence on a person's choice of policy and, correspondingly, of the candidate who embodies a given policy. Aleksey Navalnyy is indisputably the choice of younger people. The only trouble is that 18-25-year-olds are very bad about going to vote: Their heads are full of other interests not linked to politics. This is why the largest age group in Navalnyy's electorate consists of people between the ages of 30 and 40 (see Table 3). Sergey Sobyanin's electorate is much older. However it is not so much strictly a matter of age here as of the things that worry elderly people -- pensions, fears, a desire to preserve what is familiar, and a limited range of sources of information about the outside world. Age per se even somewhat increases the likelihood of a vote for Navalnyy -- possibly because elderly people are electorally more active.

The proportion of young people among Sergey Sobyanin's electorate is very low. Only slightly more than 10 percent of those who voted for Sobyanin consisted of people younger than 35 years of age! But if we compare the absolute figures, it transpires that that among people between 18 and 35 years of age the number of those who voted for Navalnyy is approximately three times the number who voted for Sobyanin. And if you factor in the very low turnout among young people (it was lower than the Moscow average (32 percent) and totaled around 20-25 percent) it transpires that no more than 5 percent of all Muscovites between the ages of 18 and 35 cast their vote for Sergey Sobyanin.

It is usually considered that women are more inclined to support candidates from the regime than oppositionists. In our case this is only partly true: All other things being equal, both men and women were equally inclined to vote for Navalnyy. With regard to Sobyanin the old truth turned out to be correct: Women were indeed more likely than men to give their preference to him. 

Thirst for justice

A strong desire for justice can be identified among Navalnyy supporters. In one poll the respondents were given a list of various professions (trolley driver, university professor, official, and so forth) and were asked the following question about each of them: Does this person earn too much, too little, or the right amount? From this it was possible to calculate for which professions the distribution of incomes is seen as unfair (when the representative of this profession receives too much or too little). The result was surprising: Navalnyy's electorate turned out to be more leftist than Sobyanin's electorate. The more unequal that an individual perceived the distribution of incomes to be, the more likely he would have been to cast his vote for Navalnyy, and the less likely it would be that this vote would go to Sobyanin.

It cannot be ruled out that the thirst for justice is precisely what took votes away from both CPRF candidate Ivan Melnikov and the candidates from other parties in the social democratic spectrum from the so-called "establishment opposition."

Our figures show (see Table 4) that Navalnyy was supported not only by those who voted for the billionaire Mikhail Prohkorov in the March 2012 presidential elections but also by a significant proportion of those who voted for Gennadiy Zyuganov and Sergey Mironov. 


The statistics do not make it possible to say that income has some kind of influence on a person's readiness to vote for Navalnyy. Income is linked to voting only indirectly: An independent entrepreneur (and this is Navalnyy's electorate) earns more than an employee of the state (or even more so a pensioner), who will vote for another candidate. But the important thing when voting is not the number of bank notes in your billfold but your interrelationship with state institutions. An entrepreneur constantly has to encounter official arbitrariness, whereas for employees of the state and pensioners the state is a source of well-being.

But income level was important when voting for the regime candidate: More affluent citizens were more prepared to vote for Sobyanin than for the CPRF, the LDPR, Just Russia, or Yabloko representatives. This demonstrates yet again that in present-day political reality the ruling party's electorate is in fact situated to the right of the political spectrum, while the electorate of its main opponents is significantly more leftist. 

The center versus dormitory districts

Per se geography also has relatively little influence on Muscovites' electoral preferences. It is well known that individual districts of Moscow -- the center and the southwest -- traditionally vote more often than others for the opposition. But if you take account of all the above-mentioned variables, there is almost nothing left to attribute to geography. Support for Navalnyy in the Central Administrative District is indeed much greater than in other districts of the capital (it is also high in the Southwest and West Districts), but this is evidently because more entrepreneurs and people with higher education live there. Districts per se are not important with the exception of only the south and the southeast of the capital: All other things being equal, the people who live there are less inclined to vote for Navalnyy. 

The future

We cannot know for certain how the electorate's preferences will evolve in the next few years. Today it is clear that we are currently at the very beginning of a new political paradigm in which the principal role will be played by the post-Soviet generation, for whom the important thing is not just what they have to live on but also what kind of life they can have. This generation does not need Big Brother, and they have time and money and the desire to invest them in politics. This generation can choose a leader for itself without prompting from the propagandists -- a leader who is prepared to represent their desire for change. But there are numerous unpredictable variables. Whether or not Navalnyy is jailed; whether the repression intensifies or red lines are put in place for the siloviki; and whether oil prices will remain at current levels or fall with the consequence that the regime will not have the resources to buy citizens' loyalty. But in any event demands for justice and change will be factors in coming elections -- the Moscow City Duma elections in 2014, for example. And the new political movement has every chance of converting this demand into votes and deputies' seats.