15.03 Review

80 by 80: The administrative-industrial vertical is designed to saturate polling stations with people and create the image of popular approval

The 2024 election campaign is characterised by two seemingly contradictory features: informational invisibility and extreme administrative mobilisation. In reality, both elements of this strategy are subordinated to the same goal: to prevent any surprises by demobilising more politically active voters and mobilising more passive ones. Such a strategy reflects the regime's relatively high concerns about the possibility of protest voting and, at the same time, the existence of a powerful administrative resource that makes it possible to build an almost Soviet-style administrative-industrial vertical of voting coercion. The vertical should guarantee the ‘saturation’ of polling stations with voters, creating a picture of ‘popular support’, which will give credibility to the administratively appointed election result. Both turnout and votes for Putin must exceed the 80% threshold.

On the one hand, according to the final monitoring data of the ‘Golos’ movement, the media coverage of the election was 1.6 times lower than in 2018. Moreover, Putin's ‘competitors’ not only have close to zero popularity, have made efforts to make their election campaigns as low-profile as possible. Even on the websites of the political parties that nominated them, the topic of the election goes virtually unmentioned.

However, Golos notes that while the media gave Putin the maximum information advantage, it also emphasised his status not as a candidate, but as the incumbent president. As a result, Putin has received 21,865 mentions on federal TV channels since the start of the campaign, compared to 3130 mentions for the other three candidates combined. Moreover, stories about the elections were extremely concise, while stories about the president's activities were very detailed. Thus, in terms of airtime volume, this difference increases several times further.

In parallel with the ‘shrinking’ of natural voter turnout, the authorities developed an unprecedented, almost total campaign of administrative mobilisation of voters. Administrative coercion was used for the first time in the 2018 elections and, to a greater extent, in the vote on constitutional amendments, but in the current elections it has, for the first time, acquired a systematic and total character. The goal of ensuring a turnout of 80-85% has been set, according to media reports, in many internal documents of local and regional administrations; for example, this was noted in a leak from a meeting of the administration of the Ryazhsk municipal district of the Ryazan region or in the ‘election campaign strategy’ in Udmurtia developed by the regional administration.

An important difference in the current campaign is that it relies less on the use of various kinds of creative mobilisation strategies, such as the ”Choose Russia” social action’ that will take place at polling stations in the Omsk region, and relies more on the use of direct coercion at the workplace. Practices and specific mechanisms vary from region to region, but are ubiquitous.

Another difference from the 2018 campaign is that, with the introduction of multi-day and remote voting, the main mobilisation activities are aimed at forcing voters to vote on the working day of Friday 15 March, as well as increasing the level of control over voters. Voters are required either to vote in the presence of supervisors or to document their vote (photos, screenshots, calls, text messages). United Russia is promoting a service called ‘Geo-SMS’, which helps to control turnout, in which voters must ‘check in’, but which works only at polling stations. Compulsion to vote at certain polling stations (in order to optimise control) has become a mechanism of mass control.

Corporate mobilisation is being carried out extensively not only at state companies, but also in private firms, writes Golos. The aforementioned Udmurt ‘strategy’ sets the task of ensuring the ‘drive’ of employees from the republic's large industrial enterprises. The leaks in Irkutsk Oblast show that a real ‘coercion machine’ has been built at the level of at least some regions. Initially, a database of municipal leaders and industrial enterprises was created, and then each of them entered data on responsible mobilisers, who in turn should enter the data of voters whose ‘drive’ they guarantee and control.

In Moscow, active coercion to controlled electronic voting is being practised. Pressure is (traditionally) exerted on employees of the State Budgetary Institution ‘Zhilishchnik, other Moscow State Budgetary Institutions, Moskomsport, Moscow government, MFTs. Under the threat of dismissal, management demands screenshots of personal accounts to be sent. Golos estimates that about 10 million Russians (4.5 million of which are in Moscow) will take part in electronic voting, with no external control over the results.

By mid-afternoon on Friday, Moscow time, according to the election commission, 20% of voters had cast their ballots across Russia, while in the eastern regions of the country, where the working day had already ended, 55.63% of voters had cast their ballots in the Jewish Autonomous Region, 48% in the Magadan Region, 47% in the Sakhalin Region, and 64% in the Chukotka Autonomous District.

The paradox of such an ‘electoral’ campaign reflects a deeper contradiction. On the one hand, there is a fairly high level of concern within the regime regarding the possibility of protest voting. And at the same time, there is the availability of a powerful administrative resource at its disposal, which has allowed for the construction of an almost Soviet-style administrative-industrial vertical of voter coercion. The vertical should guarantee ‘saturation’ of polling stations with voters, creating a picture of ‘popular support’, which will give credibility to the administratively appointed election result. Both turnout and votes for Putin must exceed the 80% threshold.