Russia's Vote of Indifference

Russian internet users show uncharacteristic disinterest amid Sunday's presidential election.


To the surprise of no one, Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected to a fourth six-year term on Sunday. Viable opposition leaders were barred from running. Voter turnout, which the Kremlin likes high to bolster the legitimacy of the process, was up from six years ago, according to election officials. Yet, at least by the measure of online attention, Russians showed a surprising lack of interest in the vote. Our signal that measures country-level Russian audience engagement on social and collaborative media rose far less than it did for other recent political events. Both the 2016 legislature elections and the opposition-led protests in 2017 registered far greater interest than yesterday's presidential vote.


In addition, a signal that captures Russian interest in past protests and opposition activity was muted. This signal tends to spike as anti-government activity coalesces and breaks out. It also rose during the legislature vote in 2016. 


Despite an anti-government campaign to suppress turnout -- the digital signature of which reflected a broadening of the opposition, as we noted in a research note last month -- the lack of interest suggests a setback for the opposition.