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Driving Authoritarianism? Voter Turnout Trends in Russia, 2005 - 2014

Sat, September 2, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Union Square, Continental Parlor 1


Autocrats are interested in winning elections while avoiding, as much as possible, reputational damage associated with accusations of electoral fraud. Rather than manipulating votes, therefore, regimes may opt to manipulate voters. Boosting voter turnout among targeted sectors of the population using direct and indirect pressure can secure an electoral result without raising alarm bells associated with more traditional forms of electoral fraud such as ballot box stuffing. In Russia, research has shown that voters who are employees or members of sectors that are highly economically dependent on the state – people employed in agriculture (Saikkonen 2016), those who vote where they also live (Allina-Pisano 2010), and employees of large firms or firms in sectors that are characterized by immobile assets (Frye et al 2014) – are vulnerable to mobilization efforts in support of United Russia (UR) and Vladimir Putin. Based on these findings one could argue that Russia’s authoritarian regime has, using the manipulation of voters, reversed electoral accountability from the democratic model where politicians are answerable to voters, to the nondemocratic model where voters are answerable to politicians (see Stokes 2005). However, an analysis of broader trends in voter turnout is needed to confirm this and answer other important questions. What is the relative strategic value of each set of vulnerable populations? Are mobilization efforts uniform across types of elections and/or over time? Is turnout in support of UR hindered by economic factors such as unemployment? Are certain regions in Russia harder to mobilize for the regime than others? This paper uses data on presidential, parliamentary and regional elections in Russia from 2005 to 2014 to provide a comprehensive discussion of turnout trends and shed light on these questions as well as others.