This study investigates the institutional influence on Russia’s regional voter turnout and establishes differences between federal and regional voter participation. Given the regional turnout in the 2011–2016 national and regional elections, the authors test the hypothesis that Russia’s turnout largely hinges on institutional rather than socio-economic factors. For a deeper analysis of electoral behavior, the researchers consider a range of institutional aspects applicable to the country’s regional peculiarities. Such an empirical approach demonstrates that different types of elections are conditioned by different indicators and metrics. Consequently, the analysis proves the relevance of institutional factors to voter turnout.
This article examines the differences between Russian voting at federal elections and regional legislature elections, both combined and conducted independently. The authors analyse these differences, their character and their dynamics as an important characteristic of the nationalisation of the party system. They also test hypotheses about a higher level of oppositional voting and competitiveness in subnational elections, in accordance with the theory of second-order elections, as well as the strategic nature of voting at federal elections, by contrast with expressive voting during subnational campaigns. The empirical study is based on calculating the differences in votes for leading Russian parties at subnational elections and at federal elections (simultaneous, preceding and following) from 2003, when mandatory voting on party lists was widespread among the regions, to 2019. The level of competitiveness is measured in a similar way, by calculating the effective number of parties. The study indicates a low level of autonomy of regional party systems, in many ways caused by the fact that the law made it impossible to create regional parties, and then also by the 2005 ban on creation of regional blocs. The strong connection between federal and regional elections in Russia clearly underlines the fluid and asynchronic nature of its electoral dynamics, where subnational elections typically predetermine the results of the following federal campaigns. At the same time, the formal success of the nationalisation of the party system, achieved by increasing the homogeneity of voting at the 2016 and 2018 federal elections, is not reflected by the opposing process of desynchronisation between federal and regional elections after Putin’s third-term election. There is also a clear rise in the scale of the differences between the two. At the same time, the study demonstrates the potential presence in Russia of features common to subnational elections in many countries: their greater support for the opposition and presence of affective voting. However, there is a clear exception to this trend during the period of maximum mobilisation of the loyal electorate at the subnational elections immediately following the accession of Crimea in 2014–2015, and such tendencies are generally restrained by the conditions of electoral authoritarianism.