Was There Fraud in Russia's Duma Elections?

This one is complicated. There was but results would have been largely the same if there was none -- says Anatoliy Karlin, a LDPR voter

(1) United Russia was polling at around 40% according to different pollsters (both state-owned FOM and VCIOM, as well as independent Levada) in the run-up to the elections. However, adjusting for undecideds would raise it to 55%.

This is in line with United Russia’s official tally of 54.14%.

That said, it should be noted that Russian pollsters tend to overestimate popular support for the party of power (an ironic consequence of their models being constructed on the assumption that there is no electoral fraud).

(2) For the first time, there was a US-style predictions market organized by VCIOM, which had United Russia getting 44%.

(3) The VCIOM exit poll had United Russia getting 44.5%, and FOM had it getting48.4%, implying a 6-10% discrepancy versus the official results.

(4) There have been some videos of apparent ballot stuffing. Whether or not they were real is irrelevant. The vast bulk of Russian electoral fraud takes place during the counting phase.

(5) Using the Gaussian method, made famous in 2011, Sergey Shpilkin comes out withan estimate of 14% fraud during these elections (see also by region). The basic idea is that the number of votes each party receives should abide by a single bell curve relative to turnout. This happens for United Russia across the left hand side of the bell curve, but begins to diverge more and more as turnout increases – a phenomenon that could be explained by turnout being inflated by fictitious votes for United Russia.

As I wrote in my 2011 post on the mathematics of Russian electoral fraud, Shpilkin’s method almost certainly overstates the level of fraud because an alternative explanation is that the sorts of people who vote for United Russia also tend to turn out more (e.g. rural areas vs. urban areas was a classical case of precisely that in 2011, which the then head of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov brought up to argue that fraud was minimal). There are also plenty of cases of this exact phenomenon in developed countries, such as the UK and Germany, where the share of votes accruing to their respective conservative parties, the Tories and the CDU, increase with turnout.

As such, most serious, statistics-based estimates of the level of fraud in the 2011 elections hovered between 5% and 10% (with around 8-9% being the likeliest), and 4-7% (with around 5-6% being the likeliest) in the 2012 elections. Even though this Gaussian method doesn’t work as a good estimator of absolute fraud, it is presumably pretty good at gauging the levels of relative fraud across elections; historically, it yielded a figure of 16% in the 2011 Duma elections, and 6% in the 2012 Presidential elections. The 14% figure that Shpilkin came up with this time round implies that fraud was higher than in 2012, but lower than in 2011 – perhaps 7-8%.

This rough estimate is supported by the fact that United Russia got almost exactly 5% points more than in 2011. Likewise, the VCIOM opinion polls immediately prior to the elections – not a great indicator of absolute support by themselves, but useful for comparisons across time – showed United Russia as being 5% points more popular now than in 2011.


This is an additional hint that the level of fraud was similar to that seen in 2011.

However, it is virtually certain not to excite any protests because (1) Putin is himself much more popular now than he was in 2011, (2) the Western-orientated opposition has discredited itself by opposing Crimea’s return to its traditional homeland, and (3) elections in Moscow, the most (relatively) oppositionist city, have been consistently clean since 2012.

(6) United Russia massively increased its share of the seats from 52.9% to 76.2%, forming an easy supermajority with a margin of 10% points.


There would have been no major differences without fraud. Russia’s shift to a partial FPTP system meant that 2/3 of the seats would have been assured even if the level of fraud was at Shpilkin’s 14%.

(7) The Western-orientated parties, aka the so-called “genuine” opposition: With just 2.0% of the vote, the liberal-left Yabloko party would not have broken the 3% required for state financing, not to even mention the 5% barrier for representation in the Duma. However, at least Yabloko has some genuine roots in Russia. PARNAS, the current home to most of Russia’s foreign grant-eating and WSJ oped-writing opposition, got a mere 0.7%. The only place where they enjoy significant support is in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, where their combined share of the vote was at 11%-12%.

Their platform of giving Crimea to Ukraine is just not that popular, least of all in Crimea itself, where their combined votes were a mere 1.2% of the total (making it yet another data piece that gives to lie to Western propaganda that Russia is “occupying” Crimea). Incidentally, PARNAS even went so far as to ask Ukraine for official permission to campaign in Crimea (Kiev refused. Sad!).

(8) I was on record saying that with the introduction of the partial FPTP system, the degree of falsification should fall:

Second, it will also massively lower the incentives for direct falsifications, which are a very prominent and undeniable stain on Russia’s elections in the past decade. After all while in a proportional system falsification will have a direct and immediate impact on the result, in a mixed system United Russia or UR-friendly candidates will be sweeping the constituency elections anyway. Ergo much smaller degrees of fraud or even the absence of fraud would still result in better results for UR than the c.8% falsification in its favor in the 2011 elections everything else being equal.

This was not just my opinion, here is Bershidsky saying the same thing earling this year:

In September, this Duma will be replaced by a new one, and if there’s any vote-rigging, it will be much harder to notice than in 2011. Putin doesn’t want to be accused of cheating.

The levels of fraud did decline relative to 2011, but only modestly.

Why does the Kremlin still bother to falsify when it could enjoy greater legitimacy by keeping them clean? There are academic theories that electoral fraud, even when victory is assured, is still “rational” from the POV of an authoritarian ruler. Falsification helps you signal such overwhelming dominance that it effectively demoralizes the opposition {Simpser 2013}. But this can backfire (see the Moscow protests in 2011), and besides, there are very real benefits even for authoritarian polities to keep their elections clean – namely, to credibly signal regime strength and to receive reliable information on their true level of political support. These benefits are especially germane for dictators with “rich financial resources, disciplinary ruling organizations, and weak opposition” {Higashijima 2014). Russia satisfies all three conditions.

Allow me to advance a more banal thesis: Electoral fraud in Russia is largely a function of regional corruption as opposed to a conscious game theoretic strategy, and one which the Kremlin is as little interest in addressing as corruption in its own elite ranks (post-2011 Moscow is the only prominent exception to this).


Map of Russian election fraud in 2011 by region (green = fair) based on Dmitry Kogan’s estimates, compiled by Kireev.

Map of corruption prevalence in Russia based on a 2011 FOM survey.

Dat Finno-Ugric admixture line yo.

(9) The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party – yes, Russians invented Alt Right trolling a couple of decades in advance of Americans – has massively improved its position, drawing level with the Communist Party.

Second place: Yellow = LDPR won, Red = KPRF won. Map via Kireev.

I recall some Communists in 2011 expressing the hope that the party would be revitalized by an influx of new blood, but these hopes appear to have completely flopped.

According to the VCIOM exit poll, while United Russia voters are largely uniform across age groups, this is not the case for the Reds vs. Browns. Whereas 60+ year old Communist voters hugely outnumber 18-24 year old LDPR voters, by 22% to 10%, amongst LDPR voters the relationship is the complete inverse, with 60+ year old LDPR voters being outnumber by 18-24 year old LDPR voters by 19% to 8%.

As an LDPR voter myself, I am pretty chummed with these results – the best for the party since 1993.

However, this is counteracted by a genuinely worrisome trend. Moscow’s 115+ IQ yuppie latte sipping skinny jeans wearing Western cargo cult worshipping class is thoroughly pozzed. A stunning 45% of voters at the Moscow State University polling station voted for Yabloko and PARNAS. A good half of Russia’s future intellectual elites are basically cucks who are happy to sell their own countrymen down their river if it helps them get visa-free travel to Europe and accolades from budding Corpse-in-Chief Clinton.