Two weeks ago Illarionov gave an interview on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Covering it in-depth is somewhat of a pointless exercise, what with him comparing 1999-2007 Russia with Nazi Germany in 1932-40 (because of their rapid economic growth and Russia’s supposed loss of the rule of law). Now not only is invoking Godwin’s Law usually treated as a concession, suffice to say, had he been a German in the 1930’s he’d be lucky not to have vanished into the Nacht und Nebel, let alone been interviewed by a liberal Berlin media outlet. Nonetheless, it is worth looking into his PowerPoint presentation on Echo‘s website, a summary of which has been written up by Kim Zigfeld (La Russophobe) on Publius Pundit in More on Russian Elections Fraud.
In summary, using data from Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, Illarionov attempts to prove that under Putin elections have been falsified. (This is not a new approach – see podmoskovnik‘s much more convincing post about how how there were suspicious spikes in turnout by multiples of five, e.g. 89% – 633, 90% – 927, 91% – 770). To do this, he shows that while in the 1990’s turnout rates by region followed a Gaussian “bell-shaped” distribution, after that distortions appeared at the far end, presumably because of artificially inflated vote counts.
Vertical axis: Number of Regions (reporting this percentage turnout)
Furthermore, it was always in favor of the “party of power” and the Kremlin’s candidate. Higher turnouts almost always favored United Russia in 2007, as had been the case ever since Putin came to power. (Under Yeltsin, all lines were supposedly even). Pretty damning?
Vertical (y) axis: Percentage of Votes From All Voters
Horizontal (x) axis: Voter Turnout (%)
Well, a few caveats.
1. Turnout does not necessarily have to follow a bell-shaped pattern to be counted democratic. This is because countries are not uniform. Different regions may have utterly different culturs that would predispose them to different turnouts. While the graph for any one culture or ethnicity could indeed resemble a peak, adding them up may well result in several peaks. In fact, a great deal of the “surplus” turnout in Russia happened in the Caucasus and other ethnic republics.
Let’s take the Ukraine, a Free country by Freedom House standards. I did a similar exercise for its 2007 Parliamentary elections (stats here) and this is the graph I got 20 hours after the elections.
Based on the available data, there are also sizable distortions to the right. Does this mean the Ukrainian elections were marred by fraud?
2. The sociological factors that compel more people to turn up in some parts of a country than in others may also predispose them to vote for certain parties. For instance, as we can see below, in the Ukraine a higher turnout almost always coincided with greater enthusiasm for each region’s party of choice.
The only reason Ukraine’s democracy is more vibrant than Russia’s is because it is culturally split and none of its parties are truly national. (The closest thing Ukraine has to a national party is Yulia Timoshenko Bloc, and interestingly, it has a lower gradient than either the Party of Regions (South and East) or Our Ukraine (West).) In other words, if Ukraine was split into three countries based on who voted for YBT, PoR and NUNS, then the correlation between higher turnout and higher votes for that party in each region would be much closer, and possibly quite similar to United Russia’s 2007 results (i.e. leave only the high points on the graph below for each station and then draw a straight line through each series).
Though I can’t find the Georgian election figures from their Election Commission, it is well known that both turnout and votes for Saakashvili were higher in rural areas than in Tblisi. It would be interesting to see the amount of similarity there is to Russia’s results.
3. Why was there a such a dramatic change, according to Illarionov, between the 1990’s and 2000’s? What caused this apparently massive shift in voting patterns? This is the billion-dollar question and I have no answers to it. I can’t check the data for myself (I had a look at the Electoral Commission‘s website and I could not get it to show any results from before 2003), so it seems Illarionov dug up the data another way. So I’d appreciate it if you can throw in some ideas as to why this might be the case.