Centralization and the origin of Russia’s election fraud

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Kirill Kalinin.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

An earlier post on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog covered Kirill Kalinin’s work concerning election fraud in Russia. That post showed evidence from empirical work that polls ahead of the 2012 Russian presidential election were flawed, setting the stage for subsequent election fraud. This post returns to Kalinin’s work to consider why.

Political Science Ph.D. candidate Kirill Kalinin studies election fraud. Along with Professor of Political Science, Professor of Statistics, and Center for Political Studies Faculty Associate Walter Mebane, Kalinin authored a paper – Understanding Electoral Frauds through Evolution of Russian Federalism: from “Bargaining Loyalty” to “Signaling Loyalty”  – arguing that Russia’s election fraud can be understood as rooted in federalism and a formal signaling game model.

Kalinin and Mebane support this argument with empirical analysis. The researchers find that the occurrence of 0s and 5s in the last digit of election turnout percentages to be suspicious. In fact, using statistical modeling, they find it to be linked to election fraud connected with post-election rewards and punishments. From 2000 on, fraud appears to be widespread.

But why? In 2000, Putin came to power and initiated a process of recentralization. From the mid 1990s through the 2000s, regional governors made changes based in rational strategy to Russia’s federal relations.

In the mid-1990s, the central government rewarded governors with political, institutional, and financial resources in exchange for favorable election results. In the 2000s, this escalated to election fraud.

As Kalinin concludes, “Over the most recent election cycles Russian elections have become increasingly unfree and unfair, characterized by suppression of electoral competition, rising levels of administrative interference and drastic growth of electoral frauds.” That is, the rewards for fraud have rendered Russian elections inherently fraudulent.

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