| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

The Vote of the Young: Young Voters Are United Against United Russia, But Divided on All Else

File Photo of Duma Chamber
file photo
Ahead of Russia's first Duma vote since 2007, millions of Russian citizens have become eligible to vote for the first time. They are the voices of a new generation ­ those with no memory of the Soviet Union, who have come of age in an era of managed democracy. And although their electoral preferences vary, many young, educated Muscovites seem to be united by a common thread: on December 4, they will vote for anyone but United Russia. "All of my university classmates share the same inclination ­ anyone but United Russia," said Yulia Agryzkova, an 18-year-old student at Moscow's Higher School of Economics (HSE). "I don't know a single person in my age group, from 18 to about 22, who is willing to vote for United Russia."

It has been a difficult election season for the party of power. Amidst a steady decline in its ratings, a string of public embarrassments and, in general, growing discontent over the current political situation, United Russia has never seemed quite so vulnerable. A lion's share of the criticism has come from the Internet, the consummate meeting place for a generation of young, educated and increasingly disenchanted youth who voice their concerns ­ or the latest anti-establishment jokes ­ through outlets such as LiveJournal, VKontakte and Twitter.

This, however, hasn't stopped United Russia from attempting to rally young voters. Most recently, it released a controversial online ad featuring a young woman at a polling station pulling a male interlocutor into the booth, then emerging with him, disheveled and smiling, under the slogan, "Let's do it together."

But campaigns such as these seem to have had little effect on young voters. And while many doubt the honesty of the upcoming elections, they nevertheless said the best way to voice their discontent is by going to the polls in support of other parties. "I don't have the feeling that my vote will count, unfortunately, but I think it's better to go and show them ­ United Russia ­ that they don't have a majority like they used to have," said Bogdina Buvaeva, an 18-year-old law student at the Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO). "They don't like the youth, and you can see [signs of] it on the Internet ­ in blogs, Twitter, and wherever else."

But while many first-time voters seem solidly against United Russia, the similarities end there. They diverge on a range of other issues ­ the parties they support, the primary influences on their voting choice, and their opinions of Russian democracy ­ and cast the image of the oft-heralded "young, liberal voter" in a more complex light. Many are frustrated, but while some vote with economic interests in mind, others vote in line with their family's political leanings. Still more are torn between parties, or about whether to vote at all.

Twenty-two year old Yevgeniy Popov said he will vote for the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), headed by the notoriously vocal Vladimir Zhirinovsky, because he feels that job opportunities in Moscow have been drastically limited by the influx of migrant workers. LDPR has increasingly taken up the anti-immigration mantle, and its posters can be found around Moscow emblazoned with Zhirinovsky's face and with the slogan "For Russians!" "It's becoming more difficult for people who live in Moscow to find good work," he said. "And LDPR promises to deal with this issue."

Popov, a student at the Moscow State Road-Transport Institute, said his professors at university influenced his decision to vote in the upcoming elections. By explaining to him the "mechanism," he said, by which his otherwise uncounted vote would likely end up going to another party, they underscored the importance ­ no matter how seemingly futile ­ of voting.

Others seem to follow the family trend, despite the widely perceived gap between the Soviet and post-Soviet generations. Agryzkova, a journalism student at HSE, said she will vote for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), and although she was leaning toward voting for Yabloko, a social liberal party once popular in the Boris Yeltsin era, her family's tradition of supporting communists won her over. She also believes the KPRF, Russia's second most popular party, is the only viable challenger to United Russia. "Throughout my childhood, my family would always tell me about how the quality of living for them [under communism] was so high," she said. "Although I understand all the minuses, all the horrors of the socialist era, I think many people still lived very happily."

Buvaeva, the MGIMO student, said she has also been influenced by her family. The Republic of Kalmykia native said her family's deep-seeded distrust of the communist party, which is rooted in the Soviet regime's mass deportation of the Kalmyk people in the early 1940s, plays a major role in both their collective memory and voting habits. "For my family, it was a very tragic event," she said. "We would never support the communists."

Instead, Buvaeva said, she will likely vote for Yabloko, though she had considered spoiling her ballot to ensure her vote "wouldn't be cheated." She ultimately settled on Yabloko because it supports social programs from which she said her native village in Kalmykia could benefit.

If there is a second prominent trend among young voters, however, it is perhaps a sense of resignation over what they feel is a limited range of choice in the electoral landscape. It is a sort of dangerous apathy, a degree of which has always lingered in the minds of young voters in Russia, whether during the chaotic democracy of the 1990s or today. Due in most part to their mistrust of the authorities, many believe that the fate of the elections and other participating parties will be decided in the Kremlin, and not at polling stations.

Piotr Baranov, a 21-year-old student at Moscow State University, said he and his peers are discouraged by what they feel is a largely staged competition in which their voices matter little. It is a sentiment echoed by Buvaeva and many of her friends as well. "If there was an option to vote against all of them, I would vote against all," Baranov said. "I just don't see any party that's determined to develop things, or any with its own ideas. They're all playing their little games with one another, and not one of them has a united and justified position."

Recent polls have confirmed a rising tide of passivity among young voters. According to a survey by state pollster VTsIOM, published by Interfax on November 28, about 74 percent of Russian youth do not expect any sort of political protests in the lead-up to the elections ­ almost tied with United Russia supporters, 72 percent of whom feel the same way.

In a wide-ranging case study on Russian youth published by the Levada Center earlier this year, researchers found that 54 percent of Russian youngsters are disinterested in politics, while only 22 percent discuss politics with their friends. The same study also found drastically low levels of trust in state institutions: 36 percent of respondents trust the government, 22 percent trust the State Duma, and only 19 trust political parties.


Russia, Government, Politics - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet