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# 3-4. Analyzing electoral preferences. What comes next?

Russian residents' electoral preferences in the March 2024 Russian presidential election

 

The main event at the start of the routine and most predictable 2024 Russian presidential election campaign were photos and videos of people standing in long lines to submit their signatures in support of Boris Nadezhdin's nomination as a presidential candidate that appeared across social networks and non-state media. The queues to support Nadezhdin appeared in January not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in many other cities, often not the major ones, in Russia and abroad.

On 25 January 2024, the ExtremeScan research agency began conducting electoral monitoring, in the format of weekly waves, via telephone polling of 1000 adult residents of Russia in each wave, using a representative sample, on their intention to vote in the Russian presidential election.

The first wave was conducted on 25-30 January. Starting 1-7 February, we launched the second poll, but now in a daily mode. The even distribution of the sample allowed us to assess the support for the candidates before the CEC spokesperson's statements on 3 February about the "irregularities" in the signatures collected by Boris Nadezhdin.

Already in January, the only candidate with a clear anti-war stance received 6% support, surpassing all nominees of the major parliamentary parties combined, and came in a solid second place in the election race even before the start of the election campaign.

In the first days of February, we recorded a further increase in support for Nadezhdin's candidacy – up to 18% among all voters who had made up their minds. After allegations of invalid signatures and a spreading expectation of imminent withdrawal of the candidate, this figure dropped to 11%.

In the two subsequent waves, 10-14 February and 19-22 February, we captured the impact of the Nadezhdin being barred from the elections and Alexei Navalny's death on the willingness to vote and the official candidates' ratings.

In this article, we consider in detail the dynamics and structure of candidate support depending on respondents’ attitudes towards the "special operation", as well as the potential for voter spillover to the rest of the candidates on the ballot.

Figure 1. Electoral ratings on 25-30 January 2024. * Some candidates get the same ratings from all respondents and from those who intend to vote. This is due to rounding. For example, Nadezhdin's rating from all respondents is 5.6%, while from those who intend to vote it reaches 6.5%.
Figure 1. Electoral ratings on 25-30 January 2024. * Some candidates get the same ratings from all respondents and from those who intend to vote. This is due to rounding. For example, Nadezhdin's rating from all respondents is 5.6%, while from those who intend to vote it reaches 6.5%.

Note: the principle of undecided respondents' vote distribution is described in the first release of the electoral monitoring.


According to the results of the first wave, 62% of respondents expressed their willingness to vote for Vladimir Putin. 2% of voters were willing to vote for Nikolay Kharitonov (Communist Party), 1% for Leonid Slutsky (Liberal Democratic Party), and another 2% were willing to vote for other candidates. Overall, about 5% of those intending to vote were ready to support candidates other than Putin or Nadezhdin.

How would the undecided 19% vote?

While carrying out electoral monitoring, we do not aim at predicting the election results because, for the last 25 years, the official results of voting in elections are likely to be very different from the actual expression of will.

Obviously, such external bias in results cannot be accounted for in survey-based forecasting.

It is worth noting that when asked: "In your opinion, what percentage of Russians supports Putin?" we received an average rating of 71%. This is close to Putin's "personal" rating of 69% verbalized by respondents. Thus, people have a quite accurate perception of the level of willingness to vote for the incumbent president of Russia. Therefore, they would perceive the result of approximately 70% as real and over 70% – as a traditional inflation of voting results for the pro-government candidate.

The second factor affecting the prediction accuracy is the model distribution of votes of respondents who have not decided on a candidate. Traditionally, their votes are distributed among all candidates in the same proportions as for those who have made up their minds. In this case, when the main participant is the incumbent president in the context of a continuous campaign to promote him, such a distribution would not be relevant.

Firstly, because this candidate is (very) well known, and the assumption that he was not named simply because "he is not hyped" does not look convincing. Secondly, as research shows, the current elections are presented more clearly than ever to the voters' mass consciousness as "Putin's re-election", and it can be assumed that an undecided position here means refusing to vote for Putin.

That is, if all these undecided voters come to the polling stations, it is unlikely that they would suddenly want to vote for the main candidate, and therefore, it is worth considering the level of support he has achieved (69% among those intending to vote) as, to a certain extent, his upper limit.

The "No to War!" candidate

The main reason for Boris Nadezhdin's unexpectedly successful participation in the election campaign was his position on the issue of war and peace, or, more precisely, on the prospects for the "special operation". By January 2024, a mass desire to end the war and move to ceasefire negotiations had developed in Russia. This is evidenced by polling data from almost all research centers, including governmental ones.

Back in the autumn, focus group participants were voicing their desire to see a candidate with an anti-war agenda, but they would not believe even for a second that such a desire would be realizable in the face of censorship and the fight against those who disagreed with the war.

In this regard, the three-week "thaw" was unexpected but very much in demand, and the only candidate talking openly about peace gained immediate and tangible support.

The dummy candidates left on the ballot are not just silent about their willingness to promote peace but have voiced support for Putin and the special military operation. They are no competitors to either Putin, by virtue of their demonstrated absolute loyalty to the president, or Nadezhdin, with his unique anti-war positioning.

In late January, 83% of the "special operation" supporters were willing to vote for Putin, while less than 1% were ready to vote for Nadezhdin, and only 14% were undecided in this group, which meant that Putin was able to accumulate almost the entire pro-war electorate around himself. The opposing point of view was represented by Nadezhdin alone, and therefore, he had the opportunity to gather the votes of peace supporters to the maximum, and he started to make the most of it. 

Of those opposing the special military operation, only 15% supported Putin, while Nadezhdin, at the start of the campaign, was supported by 47%. Another 17% were distributed among the remaining candidates and the "will spoil the ballot" position. The percentage of undecideds among the opponents of the war was 19%. Had Nadezhdin continued his fight, this group of undecideds would likely have distributed their votes to candidates other than Putin in roughly the same proportion as had already been established, i.e. about half of the votes would have gone to Nadezhdin.

Nadezhdin’s candidacy rejected

During the period of registration with the Central Election Commission, 1-7 February, the ExtremeScan agency conducted the second wave of its survey, but now in the format of daily polls representing the population of the country every day in order to see the daily dynamics of electoral preferences in a situation of sharp disposition changes. 

Based on the hypothesis proposed above that the share of potential Putin voters among the undecided may be completely insignificant, the possible power balance would be as follows: of those who expressed their willingness to go to the polling stations and decided on their choice, 66% would support Putin (69% in the first wave), 15% (16% in the first wave) would support Nadezhdin, and Kharitonov and Slutsky would have 4% support each.

The emergence of a candidate revitalizing a predetermined race led to a slight decrease in support for the list leader.

Figure 2. Electoral ratings on 1-7 January 2024.
Figure 2. Electoral ratings on 1-7 January 2024.

However, Nadezhdin's base did not get a boost in the second wave. He submitted the signatures to the CEC on 31 January and as early as 3 February, one of the CEC members reported that Nadezhdin's signatures contained many irregularities. It became clear that there was an intention to remove him from the race, which immediately affected his rating. After the signatures were submitted, but before the possible denial of admission to the election was announced, Nadezhdin's share of potential voters rose to 18%. However, after the statements about invalid signatures, it dropped to 11%, and, in total, that week's rating was 15%.

Therefore, even before the campaign launch, almost every fifth voter planning to go to the polling station was likely to vote for a candidate with an anti-war stance. Nadezhdin's rating in the poll sharply decreased after the information about his possible barring from the elections was made public.

Dynamics of candidate support

ExtremeScan conducted the next wave from 10 to 14 February. Boris Nadezhdin was no longer among the nominated candidates, but that did not prevent some respondents from persisting in naming him as their choice. As a result, the candidate who had already withdrawn from the race retained 3% of support at that moment. Perhaps this was an expression of the last hope in these elections, or the news of his removal had not yet reached all his supporters.

The 19-22 February survey, which took place after Alexei Navalny's demise in a Russian prison, showed that voters grew somewhat colder to the electoral story: the share of the race leader's supporters decreased from 69% to 64%, while the share of undecided voters, on the contrary, increased from 19% to 24%.

Figure 3. Dynamics of candidate support across the 4 waves
Figure 3. Dynamics of candidate support across the 4 waves

Candidates' base and core potentials. The second choice

Voters, while supporting "their" candidate, do not necessarily exclude voting for their competitors. At any given moment, for example, at the moment of polling, a person expresses their intention to vote for candidate A while also admitting that they may vote for candidate B or even candidate C. In this regard, in addition to the base electorate, each candidate possesses a reserve, which consists of voters willing to vote for them in case "their" candidate is not on the list. In the first wave in January, respondents were asked who they would vote for if the candidate they intended to vote for did not participate in the elections.

As noted above, at that time, Putin had already accumulated almost all of his support potential, and the hypothetical removal of his competitors would not be able to alter his result significantly. A mere 3% of Russian voters who have decided on their candidate in the presidential election admit they might vote for Putin, although they now prefer someone else.

Figure 4. Assessment of candidates' base and core potential.
Figure 4. Assessment of candidates' base and core potential.

The question of who voters would vote for in case the desired candidate is absent from the ballot helps to identify the candidates' core electorate and reserve potential, as well as the voters' spillover among them. The volume of the core electorate, i.e. those who are not ready to vote for any of the presented candidates in case their desired candidate is not on the ballot, is the largest for the two leaders of the electoral race, Putin (60%) and Nadezhdin (52%), that is, more than half of their supporters will not vote for any other candidate. 

It is often unacceptable for Putin supporters to cast their vote even for candidates that are oppositional only formally and provisionally.

Nadezhdin's electorate, almost entirely consisting of special operation opponents, is not willing to vote for pro-war candidates.

The other politicians' supporters are less committed to them. Their core electorate is as follows: Kharitonov has 29%, Slutsky has 23%, Malinkovich has 26%, and Davankov has none at all.

Against the backdrop of Putin's and Nadezhdin's substantial core electorates, their reserve potential is small – 3% each. This reflects that those who support these two candidates chose them on principle from the very beginning. For Putin's electorate, there is a set of quite stable personalized motivations: sincere supporters, as well as those who are afraid of turmoil during the war, those who did not believe in the possibility of an alternative candidate being allowed to run (and were right) and accepted that, and those who cast their votes following an unconditional apolitical reflex. 

For his electorate, Nadezhdin embodies a unique position of immediate transition from war to peace, and he has no rivals in that.

The fresh candidate, Davankov, could increase his rating by 3% – up to 7%. His recognizability is not great, but he has just started his campaign, and his arguments are still unarticulated and unstable. In the first weeks, his possible arguments were unable to outweigh some of the rhetoric of Nadezhdin, who was closest to him.

The reserve potential of the parliamentary opposition candidates is more significant: Slutsky has 17%, and Kharitonov has 15%. This indicates the maximum amount of support that each of them might have received in these elections if their campaigning had been more motivated and attractive to the voter. At the maximum, Kharitonov would be able to count on 21% of the votes, and Slutsky – on 23%, and the two are quite interchangeable, as they both fulfill the same role in the elections.

Sources of the candidates' reserve potential

Putin

Despite the modest share of Putin's supporters among those willing to vote for other candidates, the large volume of his overall support leads to his supporters dominating the reserve potential of the other candidates.

Putin's own reserve potential comprises half (50%) of Slutsky's supporters, a third (34%) of those voting for Kharitonov, 12% of Nadezhdin's supporters, and 4% of those backing Davankov. Slutsky's electorate is closest to Putin's: Slutsky's reserve consists of 92% of Putin voters and 6% of Kharitonov supporters, while Nadezhdin and Davankov only provide the Liberal Democratic Party candidate with 2% and 1% of his reserve, respectively.

Kharitonov

81% of Kharitonov's reserve comes from Putin, 9% from Nadezhdin, 7% from Slutsky, 3% from Malinkovich and 1% from Davankov.

Davankov

Nadezhdin's electoral base is the closest to Davankov's: 46% of the reserve potential of the New People candidate are Nadezhdin supporters, 47% are Putin supporters, 4% vote for Slutsky, and 2% vote for Kharitonov. Despite equal potentials coming from Nadezhdin and Putin, Nadezhdin's electorate is much closer to Davankov's electorate in terms of their characteristics.

Nadezhdin

Nadezdin's reserve potential, in addition to Putin supporters (73%), consists of supporters of Davankov (12%), Slutsky (8%) and Kharitonov (7%).


Figure 5. Sources of reserve potential of presidential candidates in Russia (by column, February 2024)
Figure 5. Sources of reserve potential of presidential candidates in Russia (by column, February 2024)

Sources of the threat of electorate spillover

The sources of electorate spillover threat are those candidates to whom the votes of the analyzed candidates are transferred in case they are removed from the elections. They constitute a threat because the voters who changed their position during the pre-election campaign are most likely to switch to the candidates they named second in their list of preferences. These are the candidates that are the closest to the analyzed candidates in terms of electoral base.

Voter spillover from the eliminated candidates, Malinkovich and Nadezhdin, is particularly interesting. Almost three-quarters (74%) of Malinkovich's supporters will switch to another Communist, Kharitonov, while the other candidates get nothing from him. Kharitonov's supporters are more likely to turn to Putin (27%) and Slutsky (26%) and less likely to turn to Malinkovich (8%), Nadezhdin (7%), or Davankov (3%).

As shown above, over half of Nadezhdin's supporters are unwilling to vote for other candidates – that is, they would spoil ballots or not come to the polling stations; 16% of his electorate would vote for Kharitonov, 4% for Putin, and 3% for Slutsky. But a quarter of his supporters (25%) are willing to vote for Davankov – which is more than for all the other candidates combined.

Davankov, Nadezhdin's promising surrogate

Therefore, Davankov's public support for Nadezhdin and the signatures the New People candidate and his supporters submitted for him have partially achieved their goal - the legacy of Nadezhdin, who has been barred from the election, is more likely to go to Davankov than to other candidates. Davankov's supporters are also most often willing to back Nadezhdin (46%), while 20% each are willing to support Kharitonov and Slutsky, and only 14% are willing to support Putin, which is half as many as in the case of the other two pro-government placeholders.

Ballot placeholders for Putin's win

In contrast, Slutsky's electorate is most often willing to turn to Putin (39%), somewhat less often to Kharitonov (26%), and much less often to Nadezhdin (7%) and Davankov (4%). The most likely candidates to get Putin supporters' votes are Slutsky (19%) and Kharitonov (15%). Nadezhdin (3%), Davankov (2%), and Malinkovich (1%) are less likely to get them.

This means that there are two situational groups formed by candidates close to each other in terms of electoral base.

The closest to Putin is the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate, Slutsky. Next to them are the communists Kharitonov (and the eliminated Malinkovich), who are close to each other. The furthest from Putin is Boris Nadezhdin, who was barred from the elections, and the closest to him is Vladislav Davankov of New People, who, in the 4th wave, has caught up with the candidates of the parliamentary parties in terms of ratings and now claims a quarter of Nadezhdin's electorate after his barring.

The remaining votes are still distributed among other candidates, with Vladislav Davankov getting the most of them (25%). Thanks to the votes for Nadezhdin, the small size of Davankov's electoral base may increase significantly, allowing him to claim second place in the election race.


Figure 6. Electorate spillover threat sources for Russian presidential candidates (by column, February 2024)
Figure 6. Electorate spillover threat sources for Russian presidential candidates (by column, February 2024)

We continue to analyze Nadezhdin's electorate despite his removal from the campaign because Nadezhdin has a unique niche, and it remains unoccupied.

Polls conducted in January-February 2024 showed Putin and Nadezhdin, candidates with diametrically opposing views on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, to be the most popular. After Nadezhdin's barring, the only remaining intrigue in the election is the further electoral behavior of his supporters. It is most likely that slightly more than half of them (52%) will not come to the elections or will spoil the ballot if there are no other convincing ideas.

Willingness to vote (not a turnout forecast)

There are signs that the presidential campaign is beginning to lose the voter interest it has generated. 

In late January and early February, when voters saw a new, "fresh" person who also expressed many people's aspirations for peace, 84-85% of Russian voters were willing to go to the polling stations.

But once the list was closed, the anti-war candidate was excluded, and the campaigning period began, this willingness began to decline, standing at 81-83%

At the same time, the reported activity falls primarily in the middle-age groups - from 30 to 60 years old. The oldest Russians remain the most active voters, while the youngest remain the most inactive. And so far, the middle generations are joining the generation of children rather than the generation of grandfathers.


Figure 7. Expressed willingness to participate in the electoral process
Figure 7. Expressed willingness to participate in the electoral process

Candidates' recognizability

The success of any candidate in an election is, to a large extent, a reflection of his or her popularity. The researchers did not ask Russians whether they knew Vladimir Putin, but asked other applicants about it.

Figure 8. Politicians’ recognizability
Figure 8. Politicians’ recognizability

In early February, almost two-thirds of Russians knew about the Liberal Democratic Party leader Leonid Slutsky (64%), more than half knew about Nikolay Kharitonov (58%), more than a third knew about Boris Nadezhdin (38%), and only about a quarter knew about Vladislav Davankov (26%). 

During the first two weeks of the election campaign, Slutsky's popularity remained at the same level, the communist's popularity decreased (from 58% to 47%), and the "new person" Vladislav Davankov's popularity increased from 26% to 34%.

Boris Nadezhdin also grew in prominence despite having been barred from the race (from 38% to 44% on February 19-22). 

It turns out that Nadezdin and Davankov, the barred candidate and a current one, who are still relatively less well known to the Russian electorate but who already find support among them, make the most of their campaigning time. Perhaps, for these elections, the candidates' novelty, freshness, and possibly even just their age are of utmost importance. In this group, Davankov has the youngest electorate.

The recognizability of the other candidates on the ballot does not affect electoral preferences in any way, and there are no statistically significant differences between voters who know Kharitonov, Slutsky, or Davankov - and all those who are willing to vote. But the popularity of Nadezhdin, who is no longer participating in the elections, or even of the deceased Alexei Navalny, correlates quite significantly with electoral behavior.


Figure 9. Influence of knowing politicians (candidates) on willingness to vote for their candidate * In the fourth wave, Alexei Navalny was included in the list for the question about politicians' recognizability.
Figure 9. Influence of knowing politicians (candidates) on willingness to vote for their candidate * In the fourth wave, Alexei Navalny was included in the list for the question about politicians' recognizability.

While only 3% of all voters intend to vote for Davankov, among those who know Nadezhdin, Davankov supporters amount to 7%, and among those who know Navalny, there are 6% of them.

As we can see, the ones who have the potential to influence this presidential campaign are not so much those who are on the ballot but rather those who have yet to be allowed to participate or had no chance to participate yet accumulate a motivated electorate.

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