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Explaining Electoral Competition across Russia's Regions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2017


Russia can only be considered an electoral democracy to the extent that its constituent parts also fit this classification. In this article, Bryon J. Moraski and William M. Reisinger assess how well competing theories drawn from the literature on democratization explain the variation across Russia's regions in their progress toward competitive electoral politics. Their analysis reveals that distinctions among the regions in their social structure, arising from developments in the decades before 1991, help explain political competition in a manner unanticipated not only by existing literature on democratization but also by existing studies of Russian democracy at the national and individual levels. Moreover, they find that the divergent experiences of the regions during the 1990s—in their economies and levels of crime, for example—and variations in party development also help us discern which regions have moved furthest along the path toward electoral democracy.

Slavic Review , Volume 62 , Issue 2 , Summer 2003 , pp. 278 - 301
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 2003

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We wish to thank the University of Iowa's Undergraduate Scholar Assistant Program and its Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies for support. In addition, Merideth Bentley provided invaluable assistance gathering and entering the data.

1. On the state of Russian democracy, see Richard Rose, “How Floating Parties Frustrate Democratic Accountability: A Supply-Side View of Russia's Elections,” William V. Smimov, “Democratization in Russia: Achievements and Problems,” and Archie, Brown, “Evaluating Russia's Democratization,”all in Archie, Brown, ed., Contemporary Russian Politics: A Reader(New York, 2001), 215-23, 517-29, 546-68Google Scholar; Stephen, White, “From Communism to Democracy?” and Zvi Gitelman, “Russian Democratization in Comparative Perspective,”both in Stephen, White, Alex, Pravda, and Zvi, Gitelman, eds., Developments in Russian Politics 5(Durham, 2001), 1-17, 289-302Google Scholar; and Reisinger, William M., “The 1999- 2000 Elections and Russia's Prospects for Democracy,”in Hesli, Vicki L.and Reisinger, William M., eds., The 1999-2000 Elections in Russia: Their Impact and Legacy(New York, 2003)Google Scholar.

2. See Sarah Meiklejohn, Terry, “Thinking about Post-Communist Transitions: How Different Are They?” Slavic Reviexu 52, no. 2(Summer 1993): 333-37Google Scholar; Schmitter, Philippe C.and Terry Lynn, Karl, “The Conceptual Travels of Transitologists and Consolidologists: How Far to the East Should They Attempt to Go?” Slavic Review 53, no. 1(Spring 1994): 173-85CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Valerie, Bunce, “Should Transitologists Be Grounded?” Slavic Review 54, no. 1(Spring 1995): 111-27Google Scholar; Bates, Robert H., “Letter from the President: The Death of Comparative Politics?” APSA- CP: The Newsletter of the APSA Organized Section in Comparative Politics!,no. 2(1996): 1-2 Google Scholar; and Hall, Peter A., “Comparative Politics and Area Studies,” APSACP: The Newsletter of the APSA Organized Section in Comparative Politics 8, no. 2(1997): 22-24 Google Scholar

3. A map showing Russia's regional boundaries is available from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the on-line collection of the University of Texas's Perry Casteneda Library Map Collection: consulted 17 February 2003).

4. President El'tsin authorized an initial round of gubernatorial elections in April 1993 with the expectation that his appointees would win. When five of the seven elections resulted in the defeat of his appointees, however, El'tsin postponed further elections until 1996. See Steven L. Solnick, “Gubernatorial Elections in Russia, 1996-1997,” Post-Soviet Affairs14 (1998): 50. Indeed, the election of regional chief executives in the non-republics (or provinces) did not make them immune to the power of the Russian president. Thanks largely to the 1993 constitutional crisis between the president and the parliament, El'tsin was able to reassert control over the more unruly governors. In Amur oblast, for example, the governor at the time of the federal crisis (Aleksandr Surat) had been popularly elected, but on 5 October 1993 El'tsin removed him for supporting the Congress of People's Deputies. Likewise, in Briansk oblast, die popularly elected governor, Iurii Lodkin, was removed from his post for openly opposing El'tsin's actions. Michael, McFauland Nikolai, Petrov, eds., Political Almanac of Russia 1989-1997, 2vols. (Moscow, 1998), vol. 2Google Scholar.

5. Useful discussions of the struggle over post-Soviet Russian federalism include: Easter, Gerald M., “Redefining Centre-Regional Relations in the Russian Federation: Sverdlovsk Oblast',” Europe-Asia Studies 49(1997): 617-35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peter, Kirkow, Russia's Provinces: Authoritarian Transformation versus Local Autonomy'?(New York, 1998), 55 Google Scholar; Daniel, Treisman, After the Deluge: Regional Crises and Political Consolidation in Russia(Ann Arbor, 1999)Google Scholar; Matthew, Hyde, “Putin's Federal Reforms and Their Implications for Presidential Power in Russia,” Europe-Asia Studies 53(2001): 719-43Google Scholar.

6. As Berman notes, however, any country's mezo-regions “function within a broad intergovernmental, economic, social and cultural environment. The intergovernmental aspect involves relationships between governments at different levels … and at the same level.” See Berman, David R., State and Local Politics, 6th ed. (Dubuque, 1991), 4 Google Scholar. Politics within Russia's regions are influenced, therefore, not only by ties between each region and the federal center, but by ties between the regional center and local governments. Locallevel politics (outside Moscow and St. Petersburg) have received even less attention than regional politics in Russia. For exceptions, see Peter, Kirkow, “Local Self-Government in Russia: Awakening from a Slumber?” Europe-Asia Studies 49, no. 1(1997): 43-58 Google Scholar; Kimitaka, Matsuzato, “Local Elites under Transition: County and City Politics in Russia 1985- 1996,” Europe-Asia Studies 51, no. 8(1999): 1367-400Google Scholar; Tomila, Lankina, “Local Government and Ethnic and Social Activism in Russia,”in Brown, ed., Contemporary Russian Politics, 398-411Google Scholar.

7. Josephine, Andrewsand Kathryn, Stoner-Weiss, “Regionalism and Reform in Provincial Russia,” Post-Soviet Affairs 11(1995): 384-406 Google Scholar.

8. This formulation comes from Joan DeBardeleben and Aleksander A. Galkin, “Electoral Behavior and Attitudes in Russia: Do Regions Make a Difference or Do Regions Just Differ?” in Stavrakis, Peter J., Joan, DeBardeleben, and Larry, Black, eds., Beyond the Monolith: The Emergence of Regionalism in Post-Soviet Russia(Washington, D.C., 1997), 57-80 Google Scholar.

9. Vladimir, Gel'man, “Regime Transition, Uncertainty and Prospects for Democratization: The Politics of Russia's Regions in Comparative Perspective,” Europe-Asia Studies 51, no. 6(1999): 941 Google Scholar.

10. See Hahn, Jeffrey W., “Regional Elections and Political Stability in Russia,” Post- Soviet Geography and Economics, no. 5(May 1997): 262 Google Scholar.

11. Treisman, After the Deluge, 115.

12. For discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, see Alex, Inkeles, ed., On Measuring Democracy: Its Consequences and Concomitants(New Brunswick, N.J., 1991)Google Scholar; Kenneth, Bollen, “Liberal Democracy: Validity and Method Factors in Cross-National Measures,” American Journal of Political Science 37(1993): 1207-30Google Scholar; David, Beetham, ed., Defining and Measuring Democracy(Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1994)Google Scholar; and Tatu, Vanhanen, Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries(New York, 1997), 31-42 Google Scholar.

13. See Dahl, Robert A., Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition(New Haven, 1971)Google Scholar; and Vanhanen, Prospects of Democracy.

14. Powell, G. Bingham Jr., Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions(New Haven, 2000), 4 Google Scholar.

15. On the minimalist prediction, see Reisinger, “The 1999-2000 Elections and Russia's Prospects for Democracy.” See also Adam Przeworski, “Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense,” in Ian Shapiro and Casiano, Hacker-Cordon, eds., Democracy's Value(New York, 1999), 23-55 Google Scholar.

16. See Freedom House, Annual Survey of Freedom Country Ratings, 1972-73 to 1999- 00(New York, 2000). An empirical study of global democratization using Freedom House scores can be found in Ross E. Burkhart and Michael S. Lewis-Beck, “Comparative Democracy: The Economic Development Thesis,” American Political Science Review88 (December 1994): 903-10.

17. On the importance of executive turnover, see Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century(Norman, 1991).

18. See Guiseppe di, Palma, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions(Berkeley, 1990)Google Scholar.

19. Solnick, “Gubernatorial Elections in Russia, 1996-1997,” esp. 72-73.

20. Hahn, “Regional Elections and Political Stability in Russia.“

21. In the democratization literature, scholars are careful to specify that a change in the person holding the key office constitutes a “turnover” only when the new occupant represents a different political party or other political grouping. In our data, we cannot distinguish instances when the replacement of an incumbent fails to constitute a turnover. Parties only weakly structure Russia's gubernatorial elections. Yet in most of the instances when a sitting governor has been turned out, he has run in the election against a rival representing a different political grouping and lost.

22. See, for example, Richard, Sakwa, Russian Politics and Society, 2d ed. (New York, 1996), 194 Google Scholar.

23. The clearest expression of this can be found in Alfred, Stepan, “Russian Federalism in Comparative Perspective,” Post-Soviet Affairs 16, no. 2(2000): 133-76Google Scholar.

24. For evidence of this relationship in post-Soviet Russia, see Gibson, James L., “Social Networks, Civil Society, and the Prospects for Consolidating Russia's Democratic Transition,“ American Journal of Political Science 45, no. 1(2001): 51-68 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Miller, William L., Stephen, White, and Paul, Heywood, Values and Political Change in Postcommunist Europe(New York, 1998)Google Scholar; and Reisinger, William al., “Political Values in Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania: Sources and Implications for Democracy,” British Journal of Political Science 24, no. 2(April 1994): 199-245 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25. On the other side of the urbanization coin, evidence from elsewhere suggests that more rural regions have higher electoral turnout, because of elite mobilizing efforts, and that higher turnout can translate into greater support for the governor's preferred candidate. See Ann, Schulz, Local Politics and Nation-States: Case Studies in Politics and Policy(Santa Barbara, 1979)Google Scholar. Myagkov finds this occurring in Russia in 1999: Mikhail Myagkov, “The Duma Elections: A Step toward Democracy or the Elites’ Game?” in Hesli and Reisinger, eds., The 1999-2000 Elections in Russia.

26. See Seymour Martin, Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review 53(1959): 69-105 Google Scholar; Alex, Inkelesand Smith, David H., Becoming Modern: Individual Change in Six Developing Countries(Cambridge, Mass., 1974)Google Scholar; Muller, Edward N., “Democracy, Economic Development and Income Inequality,” American Sociological Review 53(1988): 50-68 Google Scholar; and Burkhart and Lewis-Beck, “Comparative Democracy.“

27. This “individualist fallacy” is discussed in Scheuch, Erwin K., “Social Context and Individual Behavior,”in Mattei, Doganand Stein, Rokkan, eds., Quantitative Ecological Analysis in the Social Sciences(Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 133-55Google Scholar; and Hannan, Michael T., Aggregation and Disaggregation in the Social Sciences, rev. ed. (Lexington, 1991)Google Scholar.

28. For a comprehensive analysis of Russia's national elections up to 1996, see Stephen, White, Richard, Rose, and Ian, McAllister, How Russia Votes(Chatham, 1997)Google Scholar. For a more recent analysis of the Russian electorate, see Timothy J., Colton, Transitional Citizens: Voters and What Influences Them in the Neio Russia(Cambridge, Mass., 2000 Google Scholar

29. Examples include Russell, Bova, “Democracy and Liberty: The Cultural Connection, ” Journal of Democracy 8, no. 1(1997): 112-26Google Scholar; and Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order(New York, 1996)Google Scholar.

30. See Susan Goodrich, Lehmann, “Islam and Ethnicity in the Republics of Russia,” Post-Soviet Affairs 13(1997): 78-103 Google Scholar; Lapidus, Gail W., “Asymmetrical Federalism and State Breakdown in Russia,” Post-Soviet Affairs 15(1999): 74-82 Google Scholar; and Päl, Kolstø, Political Construction Sites: Nation-Building in Russia and the Post-Soviet States(Boulder, Colo., 2000)Google Scholar.

31. Stepan, “Russian Federalism in Comparative Perspective.“

32. Moser, Robert G., “Independents and Party Formation: Elite Partisanship as an Intervening Variable in Russian Politics,” Comparative Politics 31, no. 2(1999): 147-65CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Natal'ia B., Iargomskaia, “Izbiratel'naia sistema i uroven’ partiinoi fragmentatsii v Rossii,“ POUS: Politicheskie issledovaniia(1999): 122-29Google Scholar; Rose, “How Floating Parties Frustrate Democratic Accountability“; O. Iu. Malinova, “Partiinye ideologii v Rossii: Atribut ili anturazh?“ POUS: Politicheskie issledovaniia(2001): 75-96; Darrell Slider, “Russia's Governors and Party Formation,” in Brown, ed., Contemporary Russian Politics, 224-34; Stephen Hanson, “Instrumental Democracy: The End of Ideology and the Decline of Russian Political Parties,” and M. Stephen Fish, “The Impact of the Elections on Political Party Development,“ both in Hesli and Reisinger, eds., The 1999-2000Elections in Russia.

33. For evidence on this point, see Golosov, Grigorii V., “From Adygeya to Yaroslavl: Factors of Party Development in the Regions of Russia, 1995-1998, “ Europe- Asia Studies 51, no. 8(1999): 1333-65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34. Empirical support for the fragility of new democratic governments is presented in Adam, Przeworskiand Fernando, Limongi, “Modernization: Theories and Facts,” World Politics 49(1997): 155-83Google Scholar.

35. On the link between quality of life and voting behavior, see Treisman, After theDeluge, 92.

36. We are not, of course, sampling regions from a larger universe but looking at all the regions in our universe. Hence we do not need to rely on statistical significance in the way one does when working with samples. We draw primary attention to the beta coefficients, which provide a way to understand how changes in an explanatory variable are associated with changes in the dependent variable. Nonetheless, the statistical significance level of the coefficients is reported as another way of assessing impact.

37. Moreover, additional regression analyses failed to suggest that the lack of significance for the regional income level and the social structure scale stemmed from collinearity between the two variables. In neither case did the removal of one from the model allow the other to become significant nor did the removal of either variable increase the overall amount of variance explained by the model.

38. McFaul and Petrov, eds., Political Almanac of Russia, 1989-1997, 1:322-24.

39. For an argument that this trend is well under way, see Stephen F. Cohen, “Russian Studies without Russia,” Post-Soviet Affairs15 (1999): 37-55.

40. Urwin, Derek W., “Germany: From Geographical Expression to Regional Accommodation,”in Stein, Rokkanand Urwin, Derek W., eds., The Politics of Territorial Identity: Studies in European Regionalism(Beverly Hills, Calif., 1982), 165-249 Google Scholar.

41. Mitra, Subatra K., Power, Protest and Participation: LocalElites and the Politics of Development in India(New York, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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