Sunday, August 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: United Russia Losing Public Trust and Support, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 8 – United Russia, having been burned by its reliance on polling agencies that overstated its support before the local elections last spring, is now making use of more independent pollsters, a reflection of its loss of public trust and the greater willingness of party leaders to face this reality, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an essay posted on “Novaya politika” on Friday, Olga Tropkina says that the gap between the support for United Russia that VTsIOM and other agencies close to the government reported and the outcomes of the March 14 elections has led the party and government to rethink how they are using polls (
Up until that time, the ruling party had sought to use favorable polls to generate support by suggesting the victory of United Russia was inevitable rather than as an accurate measure of popular attitudes. But now, Tropkina suggests, the party recognizes that public trust and support in the ruling party has fallen and is using polls in ways more typical of other political systems.
Some of the polls United Russia is now using are “for official use only” and thus not available to the public, but others Tropkina says come from independent pollsters and show that support for the party of power is in fact declining, a trend that has enormous consequences for the Russian political system.
According to one of the latter, Tropkina notes, only 34 percent of members of the Russian electorate said at the end of July that “if elections took place next Sunday,” they would vote for United Russia. Sixteen percent said they would support the Communists, 14 percent backed Just Russia, and eight percent Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR.
That decline in support for the ruling party of almost 20 percent from what VTsIOM was reporting a few months ago, Tropkina continues, reflects popular unhappiness with many of United Russia’s policies and anger about the inability of those in power to address successfully many of the problems Russia now.
And she argues that this trend allows for five conclusions: First, “the party of power simply does not have the real trust of the people,” and that in turn should mean that “United Russia will [be more prepared to] listen from now on to other parliamentary parties” rather than ride roughshod over them.
Second, as most experts agree, “social movements and unions which now are again beginning to enjoy the trust of the population will be providing support before the elections precisely to the opposition parties,” while those movements United Russia can count on are increasingly viewed as “artificial, semi-governmental and small.”
Third, because United Russia appears likely to lose more posts where there are elections, the party of power is engaged in “passionate and unceasing attempts” to do away with elections for mayors and replace them with city managers or with indirect voting that United Russia is better able to control.
Fourth, United Russia’s surrogate voting – the much advertised “primaries” within its ranks – are being conducted in such a way that many like Viktor Tarkhov, the Just Russia major of Samara, say shows that the party of power is showing “a lack of respect” to its own members and to the Russian people as a whole.
And fifth – and this is far and away the most important development – “after the March elections, the opponents of United Russia have become convinced that United Russia candidates can be defeated.” Consequently, they are forming coalitions both for elections and in legislative assemblies and at public meetings to advance their interests.
These developments can change the dynamics of politics in Russia if not totally at least in major ways, Tropkina argues. And if these trends continue in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of 2011, “United Russia will come out of them already a completely different party, in the best case, with its current rating of trust at 34 percent.”

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