Non-party agitation. Why the authorities are not fighting for the rating of “United Russia”

Andrey Pertsev

The current election campaign for the State Duma recorded the key changes that have taken place in Russian politics over the past few years. The internal political bloc of the presidential administration managed to build a system with a minimum of public scandals and conflicts – even the most shameless withdrawal of candidates important for systemic parties does not lead to them.

Voting has become a corporate-style experiment with numbers and personnel transfers, habitual for Kremlin curators. And in the public field, there are almost no elections, despite the falling ratings of United Russia (ER) and the creation of new parties. The voting results, most likely, will be approximately the same as in previous convocations, and the remnants of public policy will go into the area of ​​intra-government decisions and appointments.

Officials campaign

According to the latest polls by VTsIOM, 34% of those who have already made their choice are ready to vote for United Russia. According to FOM, the EP rating is 30%. Such low indicators of the ruling party, in theory, should stimulate high political activity during the campaign, because the United Russia party needs to fight to increase popularity again, and their systemic opponents have a good opportunity to increase their representation and influence in the new Duma.

However, in fact, nothing like that happens. Neither one nor the other is zealous in agitation. Single-mandate candidates try a little harder, but they have an understandable self-interest. But a noticeable federal campaign in the elections to the State Duma did not happen this time.

It can be argued that there has been an abundance of pre-election populism in recent weeks. The same “United Russia” held a congress, where President Putin promised pensioners and security officials cash payments. The leaders of the United Russia party list, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, travel actively around the country. In the regions, the governors who lead most of the territorial groups of the party list are zealous.

But if you look at it, all this has a very distant relationship to campaigning specifically for United Russia. At first, they tried to tie payments to pensioners and the military to the voting for the United Russia : Putin himself said that the decision on whether to issue money should be made by United Russia only in the new convocation of the State Duma. But the authorities almost immediately abandoned this link: the president signed a decree on payments, and people began to receive money even before the elections.

That is, nothing special has happened from the point of view of voters. In recent years, the President has regularly offered one-time massive payments on various occasions – from dealing with the consequences of a pandemic to the beginning of the school year. And now the power in the person of Vladimir Putin has made quite a routine action. Even the state officialdom hardly mentions the pre-election nature of the presidential decision.

The same can be said about the increased activity of the governors. They act more like bureaucrats than agitators. They travel around their region, discover something, meet people – and all this without an emphasis on United Russia.

Shoigu and Lavrov behave in a similar way, and indeed the entire top five of the federal list of the United Russia. Actually, the party figures hardly participate in the campaign – this is especially noticeable in the case of the party chairman Dmitry Medvedev.

As a result, the pre-election campaign comes down to the routine PR campaign of the Russian government, which is being conducted a little more actively than usual. The ruling party withdrew itself from the field of political struggle. And even that small election campaign of United Russia, which is more likely to record past achievements than to distribute election promises. Hence the low ratings – there is a PR of the authorities as a whole, and not of the United Russia party.

Velvet Removal

Systemic opposition parties could benefit from the low ratings of United Russia, but they themselves do not seek to do this. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party and “Fair Russia” go to the elections with approximately the same slogans and the same people. Even the unification of Spravoorussy with the parties “For Pravda” by Zakhar Prilepin and “Patriots of Russia” by Gennady Semigin changed almost nothing. None of them, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, go beyond the flags and criticize not only Putin or the Kremlin, but also the bureaucratic federal part of the United Russia list.

The systemic parties are ready to satisfy any requests of the presidential administration, even where it turns out to be serious losses for them, just not to prevent the curators from obtaining the necessary KPI indicators and a constitutional majority for United Russia. For example, in the Krasnoyarsk Territory , the  leader of the local LDPR, Alexander Gliskov, withdrew from the race in a single-mandate district , who had every chance of winning against the United Russia nominee Alexander Drozdov. Gliskov explained his decision with requests from voters who allegedly asked him to stay in the region.

In the Sverdlovsk region , the  current State Duma deputy, spravorass, Dmitry Ionin, withdrew from the elections . He vaguely explained his actions by pressure on his supporters. Ionin, too, most likely would have won the election, but his party, which, due to a low rating, counts every mandate, did not raise a scandal.

Likewise, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation humbly accepted the dismissal of one of its most popular candidates, Pavel Grudinin. The removal of well-known Yabloko candidates – Lev Shlosberg in the Pskov region and Boris Vishnevsky in St. Petersburg – did not provoke serious protests (Vishnevsky was removed from the elections both in the district to the city Legislative Assembly, and in the district to the State Duma, but then reinstated in the latter).

The systematic nature of the Liberal Democratic Party, the SR and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has recently completely turned them into inexpressive subdivisions of the Rospolitika corporation, run by the presidential administration. A few years ago, these parties were considered, albeit junior, but partners – to the extent that the Kremlin, in gratitude for their loyalty, cleared some constituencies for their candidates, eliminating competition from United Russia. Now they, in fact, have come under the external control of managers from the presidential administration and do not dare to object even on the most painful issues for them – just to stay inside the corporation.

Each checkpoint

This course of the campaign shows that most of all in the presidential administration fears that any high turnout will result in a massive protest vote. These fears are indirectly confirmed by polls : the rating of the most protest of the systemic parties of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is growing rapidly, despite sluggish campaigning and the withdrawal of popular candidates. Back in June, support for the party was at the level of 12%, and now it is approaching 18% (according to closed polls, the rating of the communists has already exceeded 20%).

Therefore, so that the protest voter does not come to the elections, his attention is not irritated by persistent agitation either for United Russia or for other systemic parties. Compared to the achieved KPIs and the required figures for the required parties, the convincingness of the election results fades into the background for the Kremlin managers. It is much easier to get the planned results by stretching the voting for three days and canceling the video surveillance. Plus the mobilization of administratively dependent voters.

In such a system, the figure of a pro-government candidate loses all meaning – anyone can become a passing politician. Even if some of the representatives of, say, the Leaders of Russia have no political talents or experience at all, it’s not a problem, a colleague in the corporation will give way to him. And if a colleague turns out to be intractable, then surely he is subject to removal by law. The political itself becomes a distant periphery for the system, and even in the Duma campaign, the PR of the bosses and the bureaucracy as such comes to the fore. Politicians, in fact, turn into officials, for whom participation in elections is only one of the secondary and ritual functions.

Courtesy: (Carnegie)