Voter Apathy Is Putin's Greatest Foe In Russia's Elections

Russian president Vladimir Putin isn't facing a serious challenger in his re-election bid. But anemic voter turnout might deny Putin a strong mandate.
Posted at 1:19 PM, Mar 15, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin is up for re-election. But Putin doesn't have to worry about winning the vote; he has to worry about winning convincingly.

None of Putin's seven challengers in this election have broken even single-digit support, according to state-run polls. And Putin's main opponent, Alexi Navalny, has been barred from running and is calling for a boycott of the race.

But Putin doesn't just want a victory; he wants a mandate. A decisive victory with a large turnout from Russian voters could further cement Putin's regime in power, possibly even beyond his constitutional term limit of 2024.

The Kremlin's exact target for these elections isn't clear, but one goal may be 70 percent of the vote with 70 percent turnout. That'd be close to what former President Dmitry Medvedev won in 2008, when he stood in for Putin. Putin ran again for president in 2012, and he probably wants to beat the 64 percent of the vote and 65 percent turnout he got that year.

But while Putin's support remains high, it's tough to get voters excited about a foregone conclusion. And Putin himself hasn't shown much enthusiasm for the campaign trail.

Russia's recent economic woes might further dampen voter's spirits. Disposable income rates have languished after a meteoric rise in the early 2000s, and a recent poll by the country's central bank found almost half of Russians aren't expecting a boost to their financial situation in the next year.

Of course, nothing's stopping Putin from rigging the polls in his favor. But allegations of vote-tampering prompted massive anti-government demonstrations across Russia in 2011 and beyond — something the Kremlin is probably eager to avoid this time around.