The Provincialization Of Russian Electoral Fraud

Analysis of the election data is now trickling in, so I feel I can now make some real preliminary estimates of the degree of fraud (eventually, I will compile a list of estimates as I did for the 2011 elections). My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated.

The most reliable evidence, in my opinion, is the FOM exit poll which gave Putin a vote of 59.3% in contrast to the 63.6% official tally – a difference of slightly more than 4%. (VCIOM gave him 58.3%, but I consider it slightly less reliable: It polled 63 regions, to FOM’s 81, and the missing regions included places like Ossetia and Daghestan where support for Putin is higher than average – even if so is the level of falsifications). Below is a table of regional falsifications, courtesy of Kireev. As you can see, the highest discrepancies between official and exit poll results – and the only ones exceeds the margin of error – are now in Federal Districts with many national ethnic minority republics: North Caucasus (Daghestan, Chechnya, etc), the Urals (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan), and the South (Kalmykia, Adygea). Across Russia as a whole, the discrepancy was 4.3%, relative to 6.3% in 2011.

 FOM exit poll Official  Difference
Central FD 53.8 56.6 2.8
Northwestern FD 56.3 59.1 2.8
Southern FD 59.0 63.8 4.8
North Caucasian FD 68.4 82.7 14.3
Volga FD 61.3 68.1 6.8
Urals FD 64.4 67.0 2.6
Siberian FD 61.0 62.1 1.1
Far East FD 60.3 59.9 -0.4
Russia 59.3 63.6 4.3

Moscow May Not Trust Tears But It Does Trust Gauss

Readers of the blog will know that my assessment is that Moscow was marred by extensive fraud in 2011, with United Russia getting 30%-35% as opposed to its claimed result of 46.6%. Now Putin is always 10%-15% more popular than United Russia, so the very fact that he got virtually the same score – 47.0%, to be precise – in Moscow as did United Russia three months later is damning of the capital’s 2011 elections by itself. But there is also stunning graphical evidence of this, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov. The graphs below show the votes for turnout (horizontal) vs. the votes for UR/Putin (vertical), in the 2011 election (left) and the 2012 election (right). Observe the vast change from two clusters in 2011, with the bigger one around 55% representing stations where there was fraud, and the very tight, elegant cluster around 45% representing the vote for Putin in 2012.

Question to everyone who expressed skepticism that there was mass fraud in Moscow in 2011: How would you explain this difference?

The ironic thing, of course, is that the cleanness of the 2012 elections implicitly condemn the results of the 2011 elections in Moscow. Nonetheless, its still a huge boost for Putin’s legitimacy, first and foremost because Moscow is the focal point of the protests against his rule. The protesters, at least at their local level, will no longer have a leg to stand on; nor will they be able to be able to parade about with signs like the one below.

Moscow trusts in Gauss, so they will now have to trust Churov too as the two now agree with each other.

Fraud in St.-Petersburg

The picture was far worse in St.-Petersburg, with it seeing significant falsifications to the tune of perhaps 5%-6%.

There appears to be little difference between 2011 and 2012; if anything, this year there were quite a few stations with close to 100% turnout and 100% pro-Putin votes, as shown by the cluster to the top right. There is also a second cluster at a turnout of 60% and pro-Putin vote of 80%; there, too, are falsifications beyond doubt, as they are all concentrated in just two Territorial Electoral Commissions and 32 identifiable polling stations. Beyond those two patently false clusters, the spread too is very suspicious, contrasting as it does with Moscow’s elegant oval.

Graphs For All The Russias

Again from the same source, the 2011 and 2012 elections visually compared.

As I argued in my epic post on statistical methods for detecting fraud, a positive correlation between turnout and votes for Putin, or United Russia, is not necessarily indicative of fraud (First, different socio-economic subgroups are known to have different electoral patterns in Russia under fair elections, e.g. rural areas have higher turnouts, higher votes for incumbents, and bigger spreads; Second, if this correlation were proof of fraud, one must then also conclude elections in Israel, Germany, and the UK are falsified too).

Nonetheless, they are useful in the sense that they can be compared from one year to the next. And as we can see above, overall 2011 seems to have been substantially more fraudulent; in particular, the unnatural cluster near the 100%/100% mark is both bigger and darker (i.e. denser) in 2011 than in 2012.

Furthermore, the center of the huge circle in 2012 – largely representing results from the ethnic Russian urban areas – is unambiguously above the 50% mark, at about the 55% point, compared to the official result of 64.6% (difference: 10%), which means that Putin definitely got enough votes to avoid a second round. In contrast, the center of that big circle was at around 30% in 2011, compared to the official result of 49.3% (difference: 20%). Though one cannot glean direct figures from this – again, urban ethnic Russians vote more uniformly and less enthusiastically for the establishment candidates – one can get a sense of the relative scale of fraud, and this back of the envelope calculation implies that overall fraud perhaps nearly halved in 2012 compared to 2011. As fraud was 5%-7% in 2011, with an absolute reasonable upper limit of 10%, this constitutes further support for my estimate that it was close to 3%-4% this time round.

More graphs for Russia as a whole:

Number of votes vertically, result for each candidate horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

Prokhorov has an interesting bimodal distribution, because of the influence of subgroups: The bulk of the Russian electorate (first peak), then the urban metropolises of Moscow and St.-Petersburg (second bump).

Part of the “long tail” of Putin’s and United Russia’s results are because of fraud, however part of them are also the innocent result of, again, subgroup voting patterns, namely that of rural voters among whom turnout and support for Putin are both higher than in the urban areas.

Number of votes vertically, level of turnout at which they got those votes horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

The above shows the turnout (horizontal) vs. the median vote for each party or candidate at that level of turnout.

Anyway you look at it, all graphs would suggest aggregate falsification was less in 2012 than in 2011.

The North Caucasus: Is It Fraud, Or A Communal Voting Culture?

The most egregious discrepancies come from the Caucasus. Whereas the exit polling evidence does indicate that Putin has very high “true” support at 68.4% in the North Caucasus Federal District – when one discounts the ethnic Russian region of Krasnodar (where he got 65%) then perhaps as high as 75% for the Muslim republics, the official results – 90%+ in all the Muslim republics, including 99%+ in Chechnya – are nonetheless incredible.

Kireev has a very interesting post on the mechanics of voting in Daghestan, where officially there was 91% turnout and a 93% share of votes for Putin. An observer watched one polling station via the website, and as the station was equipped with a voting machine, it allowed him to calculate both the correct turnout and share of votes for Putin (i.e. by excluding the people throwing in more than one ballot). The results of those who voted fairly, with turnout at just 36.3% with Putin getting 60.3% and Zyuganov getting 28.1%, differed substantially from the official tally of 94.3% turnout with 84.7% votes for Putin and 10.8% for Zyuganov.

Of the non-standard voters, there were many people who turned up there with 2 or 3 bulletins, i.e. they were not “mass” ballot stuffers. The possibility exists that they were simply voting for absent family members, and as such that not all the “stuffed” votes in this category were for Putin. Then there were a few people who came in with big packs of bulletins, who really did fit the characteristic of ballot stuffers.

In their case however, my pet theory is that it may not be quite so much a case of nefarious fraud as a reflection of Daghestan’s and the North Caucasus ethnic republics’ voting cultures; namely, the practice of voting not by individuals but by teips, i.e. the clans that form the heart of Chechen, Ingush, and Daghestani society. The teip decides on a single candidate for the teip to support; Putin would get the nomination in almost every case (after all, the exit poll shows ordinary Daghestanis giving him twice as much support as the next nearest candidate, Zyuganov); and the headman would send a representative to vote for Putin on behalf of everyone in the teip.

The “non-stuffed” result in that station, with 36% turnout with 60% voting for Putin, may then represent the true “representative” feeling of urban Daghestani society, as expressed by its urban residents that are not closely affiliated to a teip. The other part of Daghestani society works on communal principles, that if you think about it actually – de facto if not de jure (because the practice is formally illegal under Russian law) – resemble the winner takes all “first past the post” system in the UK.

That said, I stress that this is a theory, an alternate way of looking at the voting in places like Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea that shines a slightly more positive light than the standard interpretation that their elections are marred by huge fraud; it is not fact. The possibility that communal voting is an accepted electoral practice in those regions is further supported by the presence of a similar phenomenon in local elections in Arab villages in Israel. The topic needs further research.


  1. Juha Savolainen says:

    A fine analysis with whose conclusions I tend to agree.

    Your suggestion of communal voting patterns in North Caucasus makes sense, although one then needs to ask just how far it goes: is it like all clans must prove their fidelity to Ramzan Kadyrov – on whose devotion to Vladimir Vladimirovich we cannot have any doubt! – and then the whole Chechen nation votes as one?

    • Yes, that’s why I left Chechnya out of it. You can explain 90%/90%-style results with communal voting but not 99%/99%-style ones.

  2. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,

    As I have to go out now I will respond to your challenge on Moscow later today.

    In the meantime you made the point on Mark Chapman’s blog that if the police took action in Moscow to clear protesters trying to mount a sit in then the authorities might make comparisons with the handling by the police of Occupy protests in the US and Europe. Following yesterday’s events that is exactly what the authorities have done in a Twitter message on the Interior Ministry’s microblog. See this report on Novosti


    Prokhorov has the same tail in his distribution in Moscow as he does nationally. So does this mean there are two subgroups in Moscow? Using the blogger approach I could cry fraud.

    Since exit polls are regionally biased they cannot be treated as automatically more accurate than pre-election polls conducted by sampling randomly 1600 participants across the country. Actually, exit polls are not just regionally biased they are biased on the local scale as well. Either you sample every poll station or you don’t. Sampling some large number is not the correct procedure.

  4. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,

    Viz your challenge on the question of election fraud in Moscow, as one of the principal deniers I should say straight away that you make a powerful case. I would however make some points:

    1. Obviously the points you make on vote distributions etc are highly suggestive. However as I think you acknowledge yourself they are not in and of themselves proof of fraud. By proof I mean concrete evidence of actual falsification eg proved ballot stuffing or miscounting at specific polling stations or convincing testimony from people who were actually involved in the fraud.

    So far there has been very little of this. AP has reported what it says is an account of voting fraud by an election official but the account was given anonymously and therefore has to be discounted. There have been a number of court cases but the only one I have been able to follow, which the Financial Times described as an open and shut case, in the event struck me as being nothing of the sort.

    (The case involved the production of what was said to be an original signed protocol that contradicted the official result from the polling station that produced it. However the Financial Times report confirmed that the head of the polling station continues to insist that the official result was the correct one and was the one that reflected the only count. The judge in the case (her name was Smirnova) rejected the protocol that on the grounds that it was additional to the number of copies of protocols that are permitted by the law. That decision and the judge’s decision to reject another copy of the protocol that did not carry the right stamp, was not ridiculous as the Financial Times article suggested but correct, since the fact that these two documents do not comply with the law means that they cannot be treated as reliable documents).

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and I do not want to push my point too far. It does however surprise me that in the midst of such a heated controversy in a great city of many millions which is the centre of the protest movement and under the eyes of the national and the international press more actual evidence of fraud has not so far been produced. It is not after all as if the protest movement lacks the organisation or the resources to investigate and find proof of fraud if it were there. It could for example have homed in on polling stations where the results were suspicious and used the electoral register to try to locate voters to see whether their recollection of how they voted correlated with the announced result. Given the anger that is supposed to exist about voting fraud one presumes that people would have been prepared to cooperate if only to some degree if they genuinely felt that their vote had been stolen. An attempt could also have been made to organise citizens’ committees in affected precincts in order to identify the fraud that had taken place and to campaign for the results at the particular polling station to be overturned. Steps could have been made to identify and name the perpetrators of the fraud and to explain how the fraud was carried out in order to embarrass them and to put them on to the defensive and to force them to explain their actions. Obviously this should have not targeted the lower level officials but rather the more senior officials who would have had to organise and order it. All these devices were used in Greece with success in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when political violence (and therefore fear) were of an entirely different order of magnitude from what exists in Moscow today.

    So far as I am aware nothing of the sort has been attempted. The closest to it that I have heard is that Vedomosti apparently undertook some sort of investigation of protocols at polling stations. As I do not read Russian I do not know how detailed or thorough this investigation was but my impression is that it was rather perfunctory. In the event from what I understand it calculated the level of fraud at the worst affected polling stations (not in Moscow as a whole) at just 3%, though if the investigation was as perfunctory as I think then perhaps one should not place any reliance on it either way.

    I also have to say that if a fraud was committed on the scale alleged then I do find it surprising that none of the many thousands of people who must have been involved have come forward to admit their part in it. It is not as if Russia lacks a tradition of whistleblowers. Nor on past experience would such people have too much to fear. A year ago Judge Danilin’s assistant in the second Khodorkovsky case came forward with (unsubstantiated) claims that his Judgment had been written for him at a superior court. Though the incident was highly embarrassing to the authorities nothing seems to have been done to this person other than that she lost her job. As to that given that the one thing the protest movement does not lack is resources one might have thought that many of the people who would have been involved in carrying out the fraud (most of whom seem to be poorly paid civil servants and state workers such as teachers) might actually have calculated that there might be a financial benefit for them by turning whistleblower and exposing it.

    2. Your other point, that Putin is 10-15% more popular than United Russia, is again a good one but it is based on the assumption that was is true in the country as a whole is also true of Moscow where as the elections show the political and electoral dyamics are very different. Again I don’t want to press this point too far because obviously I do not know one way or the other but might it not be the case that in the much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan environment of Moscow the distinction that is made elsewhere between Putin and United Russia does not apply to anything like the same degree?

    As I said, I don’t want to push my points too far. As I said, you make a powerful case. Bear in mind also that my background is in law and history not the social sciences and mathematics so I am trained to look for evidence of fact rather and to mistrust evidence borne of inference (which however I do recognise as evidence). Anyway you posed a challenge and I have tried to respond to it

  5. Alexander Mercouris says:

    One point I would ask someone to confirm for me: what was the turnout in Moscow? RT said in an article on its website yesterday that it was only 49% but I do not think that RT is an entirely reliable source on these questions.

  6. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Forgiive me for going off topic but I would just like to offer an opinion on the announcement that Medvedev has ordered the Procurator General to undertake a review of the cases of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev and 32 other people.

    This announcement has caused a flurry of speculation here in Britain that it is going to lead to Khodorkovsky’s release. In an article in the Daily Telegraph the former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind says that a former Russian Prime Minister (who can only be Mikhail Kasyanov) has assured him that this is the case.

    I do not know whether this is so or not. It is certainly possible that Medvedev wants to burnish his liberal credentials by getting Khodorkovsky released. However it is important to say that a review of Khodorkovsky’s case has been made unavoidable by the earlier report of Medvedev’s own Human Rights Council, which declared that the case that was brought against him was a travesty.

    As I have said previously in a comment on an earlier post on this blog the premise upon which the Human Rights Council’s report is based is obviously and completely wrong. However if the Russian President were simply to disregard the report of his own Human Rights Council, Khodorkovksy’s lawyers would be handed a strong argument that his case is indeed political and that his second trial was unfair. Khodorkovsky is of course arguing precisely this in the case he is bringing to the European Court of Human Rights. If only for this reason a review of his case by the relevant judicial authority (which in Russia is the Procurator General’s Office) is unavoidable and why Medvedev was actually obliged to order it.

    PS: The reason the Procurator General’s Office is the correct body to undertake a review of Khodorkovsky’s case is because Russia has no proper system of judicial review. Historically the function of judicial review has been carried out in Russia since the time of Peter the Great by the Procurator General’s Office. One of the reforms that Putin has proposed in one of his seven articles is the establishment of a system of administrative courts capable of performing judicial review. This reform is necessary to bring Russia into line with its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      Apologies again for following up on this off topic thread but I just wanted to say that Putin has confirmed that the reason Medvedev referred Khodorkovsky’s case to the Procurator General’s Office for review was because of the report by the Human Rights Council. I sincerely hope that one of the things Putin now does as President is clear out or better still abolish this agency whose only function seems to be to second guess the proper court process, which it does so in a blatantly partisan way.

  7. Oddly enough it seems that Putin’s popularity as revealed in pre-election opinion polls and even in GOLOS’ own estimate (54-55% which meant he won the first round anyway) might be causing some in the western MSM to come to grips with reality:,0,292094.story (still a bit in la-la land as it calls United Russia “all but dead and gone”) (the episode is “WHYS 60: Is Putin a great leader?” and it can be downloaded at – here the episode surprisingly had expat Russians (in London) who had no problem with Putin and supported him more than other candidates and John Lockland, Director of Studies at the International Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, who seems to be a Brit with a fairly level head when it comes to Russia. Given the diversity of views presented on the programme (and who presented them) I had to double check that I was actually listening to the BBC when I first heard this on radio….I would have expected just about any programme to follow the usual line of interviewing only anti-Putin personalities and giving the impression that the only ones who could possibly have voted for Putin were zombies.