Interpretative Approach Towards Voting Behavior. Evidence from Russia

Mitropolitski S.,

PhD in Political Science from the University of Montreal, Canada, Professor of Political Science and methodology at the University of Ottawa, Canada,

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2016.04.07
ID of the Article: 5155

Rubric: Russia Today

For citation:

Mitropolitski S. Interpretative Approach Towards Voting Behavior. Evidence from Russia. – Polis. Political Studies. 2016. No 4. P. 65-80 (In Russ.) . DOI:


In the last 15 years Freedom House has downgraded Russia’s status from “intermediate” into “consolidated authoritarian” political regime. Despite its gradual sliding in terms of political rights and civil liberties since the early 2000s, the country did not witness any significant change, either upward or downward, in terms of voting turnout in the federal elections. either for President or for the lower house of parliament. Why people keep voting in Russia within little margins after all? What is the meaning of voting if it does neither fundamentally change the government nor seems to dramatically influence its decisions? When voting turnout presents puzzles, the literature usually looks for explanations in different directions: from mass electoral frauds to sudden improvement in governmental performance. The main problem with all these explanations lies in the fact that, usually, they are not tailored to any specific national case. Ecological fallacy may lead to wrong conclusions about individual cases based on inference from correct statements about the entire group. Thus, when the usual arguments are put to the test in the case of Russia, we may find serious theoretical mistakes or shortcomings in any of them. Instead of deductively testing general hypotheses on a specific case, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to inductively build theoretical framework based on existing data? From a theoretical point of view, induction provides a good starting point for investigating new phenomena or for investigating old phenomena in a new context.

This paper answers the research question by analyzing Russian public opinion expressed within the frame of the last available data from World Values Survey (2011‑2014), a multinational and multi-wave study on different social attitudes since the early 1980s, some dealing with political system. Beyond the specific Russian case, this research is another brick that bridges the gap existing between statistical and interpretative approaches in political science. It provides cultural studies the rigidity of statistical methodology, and statistics the richness of hermeneutics. Reaching beyond citizens’ material interests and expectations, which traditionally are at the center of voting turnout explanation, this study finds clues to something conceptually very close to the sense of civic duty as a voting incentive. The main difference between the traditional sense of civic duty and the meaning of voting in Russia lies in the fact that Russian citizens do not consider voting as an order mainly coming from above or from outside, but from inside, from their intimate sense of doing what is right. In general terms, the puzzling phenomenon of persistent voting behavior in Russia can be explained in terms of cultural significance of the national belonging and pride. On this a rather large foundation four independent from one another add-ons suggest the existence of cultural sub-groups that understand voting as a sign of: 1) confidence toward the strong political leader, 2) confidence toward all public institutions, 3) altruism, and, lastly, 4) traditionalism.

Russia; post-communism; politics; election; turnout; civic duty; hermeneutics.

Content No 4, 2016

See also:

Nisnevich Yu.A.,
Civil control as mechanism of counteracting corruption: problems of realization in Russia. – Polis. Political Studies. 2011. No1

Inozemtzev V.L.,
Prospects of Russia’s development in a new political cycle. – Polis. Political Studies. 2012. No3

Sirotkina E.V., Karandashova S.A.,
Loyalty of Elites and Gubernatorial Elections: the Role of Pre-electoral Conflicts in the Voting Outcome. – Polis. Political Studies. 2017. No6

Makarenko B.I.,
Post-soviet party of power: the «United Russia» in a comparative context. – Polis. Political Studies. 2011. No1

Savoysky A.G.,
USA and Russia: historical injustice from the times of Tocqueville. – Polis. Political Studies. 2015. No1



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