Russia Elections Test Putin’s Popularity Amid Ukraine War

Anti-war candidate tries to put a dent in Putin’s electoral success.

What’s happening: Russia is holding a presidential election next month. While no one expects incumbent President Vladimir Putin to lose his bid for a fifth term, he has attracted an unexpected anti-war challenger.

  • For context: Russian elections are not free or fair; Putin rigs them. Most of the players are phony opposition candidates who exist to create the image of a fair process.

  • He won’t leave: Until 2020, Russia’s presidents could not hold office for more than two consecutive terms. But new constitutional amendments allowed Putin to run twice more. This is not the first time rules have been changed. Until 2008, presidents served four-year terms; now it’s six.

A real opponent? Anti-war Boris Nadezhdin is considered the only legitimate opposition candidate. But the government now claims that his election paperwork is flawed. Putin is known to keep candidates off of ballots with such tactics.

Why it matters: Putin’s margin of victory, as well as the tally of Russians who bother to vote, could provide insight into whether ordinary Russians are happy with his rule and especially with his war against Ukraine.

  • Not meeting expectations: In 2018, Putin set a benchmark of 70 percent voter turnout but realized just over 67 percent. In 2024, the Kremlin is hoping for a voter turnout of 70 percent, with Putin winning 75 percent of the vote. Polling shows only 65 percent support for Putin.

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