Because it is a certainty that Vladimir Putin will be re-elected to another six-year term as Russia’s president the western media has largely ignored Russia’s March 18 elections.
This is a mistake as how the Russian elections unfold could provide valuable insight into Russian government behavior in the near term. There is a range of possible outcomes on how the actual results fall on this spectrum will tell us a great deal about the true nature of Putin’s standing in Russia and the viability of his opposition.
Unlike in western countries understanding the topography of Russian politics has always been difficult. This is true for several reasons.
First, polling in Russia is spotty and wholly unreliable. Russians are not forthcoming when a stranger asks them questions about politics on the telephone. In the Russian experience answering truthfully can be very risky business.
Secondly, in the era of Putin Russian elections are rigged before the first vote is cast; and that can dampen turnout and make unified opposition more difficult. In 2018, the most popular figure to oppose Putin, Aleksei Navalny, has been prohibited from running. Instead, there is a whole slate of minor candidates representing various interests — some of whom have ties to Putin. This has the effect of dividing the anti-Putin vote and increasing the odds that Putin will receive more than 50 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff election in April.
What to Look For:
The best case for Putin is that he easily crosses the 50 percent threshold and no other candidate receives more than 5 percent of the vote with turnout approaching or exceeding 70 percent. This outcome is indicative of strong support for the status quo and may mean that the Russian Constitution is again modified in coming years so that Putin can run for another term in 2024. The likelihood of this result depends largely on Russian voters’ perceptions of their economic prospects as Putin’s popularity has always been closely tied to the performance of the Russian economy. As the Russian economy is just emerging from a recessionary/slow growth period this key variable is very much an unknown.
The middle case for Putin is that he crosses the 50 percent and each of his opponents is held to 5 percent or less but turnout is in the 45 percent-60 percent range. This outcome is the most difficult to understand as this could reasonably be interpreted as a lack of interest because Putin’s ultimate victory is preordained and or the inability (either accidental or deliberate) of his opponents to translate antipathy to Putin in parts of Russian society into votes.
The worst case for Putin is that he barely crosses the 50 percent threshold with turnout in the 45 percent-55 percent range and one or more of his opponents receiving 10 percent of the vote with the total votes received by his opponents totaling 40 percent or more. This would be nothing short of disaster for Putin. Were this to happen, Putin’s opposition in Russia would become emboldened and tensions within Russian society will become more apparent. While from a western point of view this is the most desirable of the plausible outcomes it is not without its risks and challenges. An embarrassed Putin will almost certainly engage in more foreign adventures and seek confrontation with the west to divert Russian eyes from domestic matters and appeal to Russian nationalism. Further, the Russian government will become more repressive at home and unsavory elements of the Russian private sector supportive of the status quo more dangerous.
When looking at returns on election night in Russia it is important to bear in mind that a lot of work went into making this election a non-event. Make no mistake, Putin will have a Get Out the Vote effort that would even do the city fathers of Chicago proud; ballot boxes will be stuffed; dead people will vote and live voters will be intimidated. Putin and his allies have been working on this since the Russia day protests of last June saw tens of thousands of protesters march against Putin and government corruption. Putin witnessed the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of Yeltsin atop a tank in a roaring crowd; and like every Russian leader since Nicholas II he knows that no regime in Russia has survived widespread instability. We will know on March 18 if Putin has been successful in restoring autocratic rule in Russia for the foreseeable future.
John Jordan serves on the Hoover Institution Board of Overseers, and is a regular contributor for Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, and "The Alan Nathan Show." After graduating from Occidental College with a degree in Economics, John received his J.D. from Empire College School of Law and his M.B.A. from the University of San Francisco and is a Member of the California Bar. John has also served as a Commissioned Officer in the United States Naval Reserve and is fluent in both German and Russian. A long time pilot, Mr. Jordan holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate with multiple Type Ratings and is a Certified Flight Instructor. During the day John is the CEO of Jordan Vineyard & Winery. He shares his hillside home in Sonoma County, California, with his three rescue dogs. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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