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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Competitiveness and Turnout in Russian Gubernatorial Elections

Europe (Central and Eastern)
 
Elections
 
Federalism
 
Quantitative
 
Electoral Behaviour
 
Political Regime
 
Presenter
Kristin Eichhorn
Chemnitz University of Technology
Authors
Kristin Eichhorn
Chemnitz University of Technology
Eric Linhart
Technische Universität Chemnitz

Abstract
The gubernatorial elections held in 21 Russian regions in September 2018 highlighted that these elections are in contrast to Russian presidential elections not necessarily a forgone conclusion, and that electoral fraud is not the authoritarian panacea for obnoxious competition. In four regions, none of the candidates were able to secure a majority and run-off elections were necessary, two of which were won by candidates aiof the systemic opposition. Furthermore, re-elections were necessary after far reaching electoral fraud was uncovered. Public perception of growing competitiveness in these run-off elections manifested in increased levels of turnout. An extensive literature has developed on the determinants of electoral turnout in democracies and the effect of competitiveness is “one of the best established propositions in the turnout literature” (Blais & Lago 2009: 94). However, the findings concerning the competitiveness-turnout nexus in non-democratic regimes remain inconclusive (i Coma 2016; Khazaeli & Stockemer 2013). Despite managed competitiveness in Russia, there is empiric evidence for regional variations of electoral competitiveness (Ross & Panov 2018; Saikkonen 2016). Its effect on turnout remains, however, contingent on operationalization. This paper readdresses the competitiveness-turnout nexus in the context of Russian sub-national elections. Are variations in competitiveness a useful explanatory factor for electoral turnout in Russian gubernatorial elections? My main argument is that the operationalization of competitiveness cannot be transferred from democracies to autocracies. I therefore propose alternative operationalizations that capture nuances of competitiveness in the context of an uneven playing field. To address these questions I analyze turnout data for Russian gubernatorial elections between 2012 and 2018.
The study of turnout and competitiveness in authoritarian elections adds to the growing body of literature on electoral authoritarianism. It highlights ways in which participation and mobilization differ from our expectations formed on democratic institutions. Further, most studies on the competitiveness-turnout nexus measure competitiveness on the national level. However, electoral races that are competitive on the national level can be considerably lopsided on the district level and vice versa (Blais & Lago 2009).
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