Were the 2013 Moscow Elections falsified?

1. The CEC results

Here they are. The turnout was 32%.

  • Sergey Sobyanin – 51.37%
  • Alexei Navalny – 27.24%
  • Ivan Melnikov – 10.69%
  • Sergey Mitrokhin – 3.51%
  • Mikhail Degtyaryov – 2.86%
  • Nikolai Levichev – 2.79%
  • Invalid ballots – 1.53%

2. Pre-elections opinion polls:

Navalny’s support – among those who indicated a clear preference for one candidate or another – rose from the single digits in June to around 20% on the eve of the elections (Levada, VCIOM, FOM, Synovate Comcon). All the polls – even including the SuperJob poll that only queried active workers, aka excluded pro-Sobyanin pensioners – gave Sobyanin more than 50% in the first round.

His actual result massively exceeded expectations. By common consensus, this was because the “party of the couch” won; although close to 50% of Muscovites were saying they were going to vote, only 32% ended up doing so. These were mainly Sobyanin supporters who were, nonetheless, loth to shift their butts to vote for an uninspiring if competent technocrat who had ran a most lacklustre campaign.

3. Election observers

In the SMS-ЦИК program, accredited election observers would send text messages from their polling stations with numbers from the protocols at their precinct. They could then be compared with the official CEC numbers.

And Sobyanin’s result here was 49.52%.

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The Russian Cross Becomes A Hexagon

One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.


But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”


This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

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List Of Estimates On Fraud In Russia’s 2012 Presidential Elections

This post is a follow-up to a similar one for the 2011 Duma elections. It contains an extensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls, election monitors, and other evidence.

In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is – unlike in the Duma elections – now only claimed by opposition forces and some liberal and  Western media outlets. The 5% Club tends to arguee that Putin got a solid majority with some 56%-60% of the vote; almost all evidence converges to this figure. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.

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Why Statistics Only Support 3%-6% Fraud

Remember Sergey Shpilkin? He is the mathematician, blogging as [info]podmoskovnik, who estimated 16% fraud for the Duma elections (also the one whom the WSJ plagiarized off). He got this figure by assuming that in a fair election, the share of the vote for each candidate at each level of turnout had to be a constant factor.

This is, of course, a flawed assumption, as I argued extensively in Measuring Churov’s Beard. First, that would imply that elections in countries such as Israel, Germany, and the UK – where the share of the vote for right-wing parties rises with turnout – are also falsified. Second, it is further refuted by Russian opinion polling evidence: Rural Russians are both more more likely to vote than urban ones, and more of them would vote for Putin.

This influence of electoral sub-groups partially explains United Russia’s “fat tail” to the right of a turnout / share of the vote graph (although NOT the spikes at 80%, 85%, 90%, and 100%, or the general “bump” in that region). As such, we can say with confidence that the level of falsifications was significantly lower than 16%, i.e. around the 6% or 7% indicated by FOM’s exit poll.

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Why Golos’ Own Figures Support Only 3%-6% Fraud

Since yesterday, the following image from an article by liberal journalist Evgenya Albats has been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows that whereas Putin’s official tally was 65%, independent observers put it close to or below the 50% marker that would necessitate a second round, such as Golos’ 51% and Citizen Observer’s 45%. Predictably, these figures were seized upon by the liberals to condemn the legitimacy of the elections. As Putin ended up getting 63.6%, while the average of all observers was 50.2%, one could conclude that the level of fraud was 13% or more.

However, as pointed out by Kireev, this is a gross misuse of statistics for political ends, because of the severe sampling problems: Golos observers were concentrated in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and a few other large cities where Putin is less popular, while Citizen Observer is almost entirely confined to the capital. The website http://sms.golos.org/ collates the results from all the big Russian observer projects, and from the regional data, we can see that about half the election protocols compiled to create these figures were from Moscow; almost another quarter were from Moscow oblast and St.-Petersburg.

Nonetheless, while looking through the regional data, I realized that if it were to be adjusted for its pro-Moscow (anti-Putin) sampling bias, we could get a fairly a good estimate for the level of fraud in this election; or at least, an upper limit for it. And so that’s what I proceeded to do.

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List Of Estimates On Fraud In Russia’s 2011 Duma Elections

Despite Olga Kryshtanovskaya’s disapproval, I thought it would be interesting and useful to compile a comprehensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls and other evidence.

In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is supported by several statistical analyses; its adherents include the liberal and non-systemic opposition. The 5% Club argues that United Russia should not have gotten a Duma majority, but many of their proponents believe that the elections are legitimate nonetheless. Estimates range from 2% to 10%, with a wealth of opinion polling and statistical analysis in support. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.

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Measuring Churov’s Beard: The Mathematics Of Russian Election Fraud

In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin’s claims that fraud was minimal. But there was also a third set of evidence. Whatever problems Russia may have, a lack of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians and programmers certainly isn’t one of them. In the hours and days after the results were announced, these wonks drew on the Central Electoral Commission’s own figures to argue the statistical impossibility of the election results. The highest of these fraud estimates were adopted as fact by the opposition. Overnight, every politologist in the country – or at least, every liberal politologist – became a leading expert on Gaussian distributions and number theory.

While I don’t want to decry Churov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, for making subjects many people gave up back in 8th grade fun and interesting again, I would like to insert a word of caution: lots of math and numbers do not necessarily prove anything, and in fact – generally speaking – the more math and numbers you have the less reliable your conclusions (not making this up: the research backs me up on this). Complicated calculations can be rendered null and void by simple but mistaken assumptions; the sheer weight of figures and fancy graphs cannot be allowed to crowd out common sense and strong diverging evidence. Since the most (in)famous of these models asserts that United Russia stole 15% or more of the votes, it is high time to compile a list of alternate models and fraud estimates that challenge that extremely unlikely conclusion – unlikely, because if it were true, it would essentially discredit the entirety of Russian opinion polling for the last decade.

In this post, I will compile a list of models built by Russian analysts of the scale of electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. I will summarize them, including their estimates of aggregate fraud in favor of United Russia, and list their possible weak points. The exercise will show that, first, the proper methodology is very, very far from settled and as such all these estimates are subject to (Knightian) uncertainty; but second, many of them converge to around 5%-7%, which is about the same figure as indicated by the most comprehensive exit poll. This is obviously very bad but still a far cry from the most pessimistic and damning estimates of 15%+ fraud, which would if they were true unequivocally delegitimize the Russian elections.

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Russia Demographic Update VII

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

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Russia Demographic Update VI

As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

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Simmered to the Edge of the World

When denier ideologues make the transition to accepting the reality of anthropogenic global warming, one of the arguments they start to use tends to go something along the following lines: “Sure, the polar bears might get screwed over, but otherwise things will be just great. Crop yields will increase and northerners will get to have their own sun-drenched beaches”. You wish. New research* indicates that beyond temperature rises of 7C, “zones of uninhabitability” will begin to overspread much of the world (“An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress” by Sherwood & Huber 2010). Not a Mediterranean world, more like Mad Max in Waterworld.

Of late climate models have been leaning to the upper range of the IPCC’s projections for global warming, e.g. the median forecast from a recent MIT study gives a rise of 5C by 2100 (with a 10% chance it will exceed 7C). According to the Sherwood paper, “peak heat stress” (quantified by the wet-bulb temperature) never climbs above 31C across today’s climes, which is safely below the body’s normal temperature of 37C. But with a global temperature rise of 7C possible by as early as the late 21st century – even without accounting for predictable tripwires such as accelerated release of Siberian and Arctic methane – some regions of the world will be subjected to peak wet-bulb temperatures of 35C, inducing “hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible“. With a global temperature rise of 11-12C, a belt of uninhabitability will come to encompass the bulk of today’s densely populated areas.

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