Make Russia Great Again: Putin Pursues Reelection in 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced plans to run for reelection in 2018. He has spent thirteen years as Russia’s president and boasts two stints as the country’s prime minister, trading positions several times with Dmitry Medvedev. Now, with an 87% approval rating and 66% of the Russians wanting him to remain president, Putin is virtually guaranteed reelection.
Though there are several would-be candidates, none appear capable of unseating Putin and his 87% approval rating. However, analysts in the West have long doubted the validity of these polls. Many accuse the Kremlin of buying out reporters or artificially inflating polling numbers. Most recently, in the lead-up to the 2016 Bulgarian presidential election, Bulgaria’s opposition Socialist Party received documents claiming to be a quick and easy path to victory in the voting booth. The strategy? Spread fake news and inflated polling data. The source? A thinktank connected to the Kremlin, delivered to party members by a former Russian spy on a U.S. sanctions list.
It is also entirely possible that the Russian misinformation campaign stopped at exaggerating the success of Putin 2018 calendar sales. In authoritarian regimes, polls can overrepresent the popularity of incumbents by 5% – 20% due to citizens giving the answers they believe are expected of them. It may be that Russian media didn’t need to inflate Putin’s approval rating; Russian citizens did it for them.
With such a tight hold on the Russian media and populace alike, it’s easy to wonder why an authoritarian state like Russia bothers with a popular vote at all. A common reason—and perhaps the most likely, in the case of the former Soviet Union—is outward legitimacy. Domestically, the ploy can generate support by feigning conformity to established rules and/or the will of the citizens. Having democratic institutions in place—however much of a façade they may be—can also be useful in navigating foreign relations with Western countries, which tend to place more of an emphasis on democratic values and human rights.
“I will put forward my candidacy for the post of president of the Russian Federation,” Putin announced at a car-making factory in the Volga river city of Nizhny Novgorod. “There’s no better place or opportunity to put my candidacy forward. I’m sure that everything will work out for us.”