The closer the elections are, the keener – even unhealthy at times – interest the published ratings of parties generate. The media are particularly fond of speculating about the decline of United Russia, which, in fact, only a minority of researchers show.
In their turn, two leading polling institutions, Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) and Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), noted similar trends. It would be curious to compare the figures with the 2011 data. Thus, United Russia’s popularity decreased just a little, 1-2%, over the period from the day the elections were called and the day candidates went out on the hustings both in 2011 and in 2016. Following the launch of the 2011election campaign United Russia’s rating dropped by 3% first, and then it plunged, as VCIOM, as well as FOM state. In 2016, three weeks before the election, we do not witness a similar abrupt and momentous change, but the fluctuations are becoming more noticeable. We can still see a gradual downward trend which is characteristic of the ruling party’s popularity amid crises and ever stronger opponents. And yet United Russia’s rating is, on average, 3% higher 3 weeks before the forthcoming election than it was during the similar period of the 2011campaign.
The Communist Party still fails to ensure the success it enjoyed at the previous elections. The trends are totally different during the two campaigns as the party’s popularity grew in 2011 and it has been waning in 2016. As a result, 3 weeks before the elections both agencies put the rating of the Communist Party at a 5% lower point than the previous time. In its turn, the Liberal Democratic Party is doing now better than during the 2011 campaign or at the start of the 2016 campaign. In 2011, opinion polls showed that initially the Fair Russia party could not even count on crossing the threshold but with three more weeks to go before the elections the party demonstrated an upward trend and its rating grew by 3%. In 2016, the Fair Russia party met the threshold throughout the campaign but after the official election campaign went underway the party has been stagnating.
The number of undecided voters in 2016 is by 1% lower three weeks before the vote than it was back in 2011.
Alex Zudin, a member of the ISEPR Foundation Expert Council, argues that all the recorded trends can be logically accounted for given the activities of the parties and the current situation:
Ever since the outset of active campaigning, 2016 is in every way – including, the fluctuations of the leading parties’ popularity and the changing numbers of floating voters – different from the relevant period in 2011.
The United Russia party is still leading the race, but the early phase of campaigning was marked by several factors which negatively affect the trend. They include the socio-economic problems and more intense competition which is the 2012-2015 substantial political reform resulted in. The most recent event with which we could compare and contrast is the 2011 campaign. There are some similarities and some differences in the way United Russia has been doing.
Just like it was 5 years ago, the above mentioned factors impacted on the race and brought about the falling ratings, which became apparent in the active phase of the campaign. This decline, however, is less significant than it was in 2011. The active stage must be centered on trying to retain the electorate. Nowadays those transformations, which the party has undergone since 2011, are subject to real-life testing. The electoral campaign reveals whether they will be enough to increase United Russia’s political potency. Speaking about other factors, Vladimir Putin’s indirect involvement in the campaign will become a more significant aspect over time, given the party’s changing indicators and the essential active phase. Specifically, the United Russia activists’ meeting with Russia’s President slated for early September is increasing in electoral importance.
As for the remaining parliamentary parties, the data indicates that the early trends are strong and steady. For instance, the active phase demonstrates that the Communist Party as the key opposition party is unable to take advantage of the situation, which was detected before. Moreover, it proves that the 2016 elections may strip the Communists of their status of the major opposition party.
At the same time, as the statistics show, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is strengthening its leading positions among the opposition, which continues the apparent trend.
As regards Fair Russia, the data reflecting the party’s stagnation during the active phase makes us refer to the skeptical attitude towards the party’s potential in early 2016. We remember that initially, Fair Russia’s chances to get seats in the State Duma were treated skeptically, but then its indicators improved. As of now the party’s failure to benefit from the active phase once again reminds us of that skepticism.
Since the beginning of active campaigning the changing number of undecided voters has confirmed the previous assessments suggesting that the 2016 parliamentary contest will open real windows of opportunity for small parties. Both the active period and the dominant parties’ indicators will show us whether small parties per se as well as their candidates will be capable of using these windows. So far, there is no reason to assume that small parties have become enabled to enter the State Duma through party-lists and that only these parties’ representatives from single-member districts will jump at the chance.
One needs to emphasize that the active electoral campaign is placing increased demands on the participants. At present leadership and strategy are becoming more decisive. This concerns all the parties, involving United Russia as an undisputed leader, other parliamentary parties and small, extra-parliamentary groups.
Gleb Kuznetsov, Deputy Director of the National Institute of development of modern ideology, pays heed to small parties’ failed attempts to take up opportunities and to a trend away from the leader’s falling rating:
Significantly, what is clear from the sociological data is non-parliamentary parties’ fruitless attempts to pass the 5% electoral threshold, which is even lower in comparison with the previous electoral cycle. The club of “parliamentary parties” is experiencing the Liberal-Democrats and the Communists struggling for second place.
It is also curious that the “iron rule” of the previous elections has been violated. During the electoral campaign United Russia’s rating tends to fall quite significantly and the final outcome is always substantially lower than before the campaign. Previously, other parties’ all-out efforts ruined the ruling party’s rating. Nowadays this is no longer the case. From my perspective, it mainly results from the dynamic activities of United Russia’s representatives from single-member constituencies. The competition of personalities has made a comeback. As United Russia faces no problems with individuals, its candidates successfully contribute to their party’s rating.