Could Election Fraud Backfire on the Kremlin in 2018?

13 Nov 2017

Would massive fraud in Russia’s upcoming presidential election generate a backlash against the Kremlin, or would the population simply accept it as normal behavior by a regime they support? A new study suggests that fraud could well backfire, causing the Kremlin to lose supporters.

I just returned from the 2017 convention of the main association for specialists on Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia (ASEEES) in Chicago and this was one of many interesting studies that were presented there, further testifying to the vibrancy of Russian studies when it comes to politics.

The study in question, by John Reuter and David Szakonyi, finds that revelations of fraud do tend to weaken support for the Kremlin and, crucially, that they have a greater impact on regime supporters than on regime skeptics. Putin’s supporters, they report, are not so loyal as to blindly justify any regime behavior. This means that for the Russian leadership’s election strategists, fraud is risky since the “votes” it generates come at the cost of some genuine support.

Of course, this only happens if these supporters actually hear about it and trust the information. And since majorities in Russia have said throughout the Putin era that their elections are more fair than unfair, this informational issue is not trivial. But it does suggest that efforts by Internet entrepreneurs like Navalny could have an effect.

Their study emerges from experiments conducted in a nationally representative survey in Russia conducted in November 2016.