Stability and Dynamics of the Regional Party Systems in Russia (based on data from 2017 legislative election)



The article focuses on assessing the general dynamics of regional party systems in modern Russia. To reach this objective, the author analyzed statistical data from 2017 regional legislative election while using the modified electoral volatility index. The traditional method for calculating this value developed by M. Pedersen only focused on the dynamics of stable democracies and was based on calculating the changes in the level of electoral support for the parties. The research material demonstrates the need to take a closer look not only at the fluctuations in electoral support, but also at the structural changes in the party system that happen between elections. For this, we suggest adding the calculation of inter-electoral volatility index and general volatility index according to a method developed by E. Powell and J. Tucker. This method allows a more effective evaluation of the scope of changes in regional party systems of Russia at the current stage and stratify them based on the level of stability. Dividing the index into electoral and inter-electoral parts allows us to make basic conclusions about the structure of these changes.

The analysis of changes inside the party system of a country is an integral part of theoretical and practical political research. Along with the changes that happen all around the country, there are significant changes taking place on the regional level. They are especially important in federal states, where local issues are particularly significant, political power configuration varies from region to region and local governments may not have enough authority. This is why political scientists pay a lot of attention not only to federal, but regional and municipal elections as well, because conclusions on the state and trends in development of regional party systems can be made based on their results.

At the same time, the indicative value of different elections is not the same when it comes to evaluating the party system. Electing single candidates, such as mayors and governors, are highly personified. Individual qualities of the candidates, their popularity and effectiveness, the ability to gain support from the federal government and local elites can outweigh their party affiliation. Legislative elections, on the other hand, especially the regional ones, are an important indicator of political stability and the level of the development of the party system.

From this point of view, the regional legislative election that took place on September 10, 2017 pose a source of curious research material. Although they took place only in seven regions (Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Udmurt Republic, Krasnodar Krai, Penza Oblast, Saratov Oblast, Sakhalin Oblast), their results help us find out the differences in the ways the parties function in these regions, their specifics compared to the federal party system and the scale of the changes.

As a rule, when analyzing regional elections and party systems a set of quantitative indicators is applied. Among them is how active the parties are in nominating candidates and lists, the level of support they get from the electorate, the number of factions in the chosen government body, the share of votes and seats of the biggest party as well as the effective numbers of electoral and parliament parties [3: 92]. Besides, for quantitative evaluation of the scale of changes in the party system an electoral volatility index developed by E. Pedersen is applied. To calculate it, the absolute value of the sum of changes in the percentage of votes obtained by the parties compared to the previous elections is divided by two [4: 9]. This index helps to measure the stability degree of electoral preferences of voters in regards to all the participant parties. Based on M. Pedersen’s calculations, in 1944-1977 the volatility value for the Western European countries was at 8.1 (like in Norway). At the same time, this value did not exceed 11 and only France had it at 16.8 because of the post-war crisis [4: 12 – 14].

There has been a few reasonable complaints towards this value at present, however: the electoral volatility index registers the general dynamics of the support for those relatively stable parties that take part in at least two elections in succession. The newly formed, reorganized and dissolved parties are left beyond the focus [7: 112]. If this factor carries little importance in politically stable societies, then in new and transforming societies it interferes with evaluating the overall level of stability of the party system.

To deal with the situation, American researchers E. Powell and J. Tucker suggested getting rid of the Pedersen index and supplementing it with inter-electoral volatility index. This supplementary value is supposed to take the changes in the number of parties inside a party system between the elections into consideration. To calculate it, the sum of the percentage of votes obtained by the parties that took part in the current or previous election is divided by two [5]. Therefore, the general volatility of the party system is calculated by adding up the electoral and inter-electoral volatility values.

S. Ersson applied another correction to the volatility index. He suggested considering the reorganization of already existing parties (creating coalitions, rebranding, merging or splitting) a manifestation of electoral volatility, and creating or dissolving parties – the cases of inter-electoral volatility (Ersson calls it “substitutional”).

This is why the suggestion is to compare the results before and after blocking/merging/splitting to calculate electoral volatility as well as include the absolute value of the differences between the result into the calculation. The results of one-time participation in the elections by new or later dissolved parties should be taken into account in regards of substitutional volatility [2: 5]. Therefore, calculating the volatility of the party system requires analyzing the continuity or breaking points of the evolution of the party landscape.

Let us try to find out the effectiveness of these instruments while using the data on the 2017 legislative election obtained from the Russian Central Election Commission (the CEC) [1]. First of all attention should be given to the succession between certain parties. One example is interesting in particular: in 2016, the Pravoe Delo (the Right Cause) transformed into the Party of Growth, and even though the leadership changed, its loyalist right-liberal opposition policy did not. Such interpretation allows us to view these to entities as one party that repeatedly took part in the 2012 and 2017 legislative elections.

Very few parties participated in the 2017 legislative elections. Moreover, their number was even smaller in 2017 than in 2012. Despite the fact that the overall number of parties and their regional branches that had the right to run in the elections had increased two or threefold, and even fourfold in Penza Oblast, a lot less parties nominated their lists. The number of registered lists was even smaller, starting from five in Krasnodar Krai to ten in Penza and Sakhalin Oblast. Besides, even this maximum value was smaller than the minimum value of 2012 [6: 15 – 16]. In 2012, 23 parties nominated and were able to register 79 lists of candidates in total. In 2017, 16 parties to get only 45 lists to the elections, and a half of them launched the election campaign only once (see Table 1).

Table 1. 2012 and 2017 regional elections results for each party
Regions Republic of North Ossetia-Alania Udmurt Republic Krasnodar Krai Penza Oblast Saratov Oblast Sakhalin Oblast
Parties 2012 2017 2012 2017 2012 2017 2012 2017 2012 2017 2012 2017
United Russia 45.44 60.14 54.67 65.17 70.84 71.88 71.99 70.09 79.09 67.66 51.95 46.74
CPRF 10.78 6.71 17.71 15.33 9.16 11.71 12.76 13.35 8.39 14.85 18.98 17.28
LDPR 1.37 2.17 10.36 9.23 4.65 11.32 4.7 7.12 2.87 8.16 8.66 13.64
A Just Russia 7.37 10.33 5.21 6.78 4.24 3.52 2.92 5.55 5.08 5.82 7.42 4.76
Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) 0.22 0.61 0.2 0.28 0.16 0.29
For Justice! 0.4 0.99 0.61 1.53
Russian Ecological Party “The Greens” 1.27 1.53 0.86 0.91 0.7 0.44
Citizens Union 0.1 0.66
Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) 1.22 1.62 0.67 3.14 4
Social Networks Patry 0.1 0.27 0.16
People’s Party of Russia 0.2 0.38
Social Protection Party 0.12 0.41
Cities of Russia 0.18 0.52 0.17 0.13
Green Alliance 2.11 0.96 0.64
Communists of Russia 1.71 2.38 1.49 3.33 1.57 2.75 1.54 2.28 4.32
Patriots of Russia 27.32 15.95 4.6 0.86 0.36 0.7 1.34 1.31
Social Democratic Party of Russia (SDPR) 0.11 0.12
Yabloko 1.76 1.1 0.74 1.23 2.97 1.67

The table is not fully displayed Show table

Calculations based on voting results in a single electoral precinct in the percentage of votes from the total number of valid ballots.

At the same time, the list of participating parties has changed significantly over the two electoral cycles. Only the parliamentary parties made their participation constant and countrywide in the regional elections. Among the non-parliamentary parties, the leaders are Communists of Russia (nine campaigns) followed by Patriots of Russia (eight campaigns). The DPR, “The Greens” and Yabloko all have six campaigns each; however, all of them fall on 2012. Only seven non-parliamentary parties participated in the elections repeatedly, and only two – Communists of Russia and Patriots of Russia – in more than one region.

The data on participation consistency is especially interesting when evaluating the volatility of regional party systems (see Table 2). The number of parties that took part in two election campaigns in succession is smaller than the total number of election participants everywhere except Sakhalin Oblast. This means that calculating the volatility using M. Pedersen’s formula will inevitably lead to considerable loss of accuracy.

Table 2. The total measure of the parties’ stability in participating in the 2012 and 2017 elections across regions
Regions The number of parties
participating in two elections in succession participating in the current or previous elections only represented in a legislative body
in 2012 in 2017
Republic of North Ossetia-Alania 6 13 4 4
Udmurt Republic 5 7 4 4
Krasnodar Krai 5 11 2 5
Penza Oblast 6 9 2 4
Saratov Oblast 5 9 3 4
Sakhalin Oblast 7 7 4 3
Average across the group of regions 5.67 9.33 3.17 4

If we turn to the parliamentary level of party system operation, the number of parties in half of the newly elected representative bodies increased, at least formally. Still, the level of their representation should not be exaggerated. United Russia is still prevalent, and the presence of the majority of the parties has decreased significantly. A Just Russia and the Party of Growth were able to put one deputy each in the Krasnodar Krai legislative assembly (the Party of growth did it in the single-seat constituency). LDPR and A Just Russia put the same number in Penza Oblast legislative assembly while CPRF has two deputies there.

Table 3 describes the dynamics of electoral support during the 2017 legislative election compared to the election of 2012. According to the law of large numbers, United Russia experienced the most significant changes. The “party of power” had the most notable changes in the results according to the law of large numbers. The most notable increase was observed in North Ossetia, where it took quite a big share of votes from the Patriots of Russia. The decreased support in Saratov Oblast made its own impact on the volatility of the results obtained by United Russia.

Table 3. Party support dynamics during 2017 election
Parties Republic of North Ossetia-Alania Udmurt Republic Krasnodar Krai Penza Oblast Saratov Oblast Sakhalin Oblast Average across the group of regions
United Russia 14.7 10.5 1.04 -1.9 -11.43 -5.21 7.46
CPRF -4.07 -2.38 2.55 0.59 6.46 -1.7 2.96
LDPR 0.8 -1.13 6.67 2.42 5.29 4.98 3.55
A Just Russia 2.96 1.57 -0.72 2.63 0.74 -2.66 1.88
Communists of Russia (-1,71) -0.89 -1.76 (-2,75) 0.74 (4,32) 2.03
Patriots of Russia -11.37 (-4,6) (-0,86) 0.36 (-0,7) -0.03 2.99
Yabloko (-1,76) (-1,1) (-0,74) (1,23) -1.3 1.23
Other parties 8.81 5.3 5.83 3.55 2.34 12.68 6.42

Calculations based on voting results in a single electoral precinct in the percentage of votes from the total number of valid ballots. The values of a one-time participation are in parentheses (positive values in 2017, negative in 2012).

LDPR was second in terms of unstable support from the voters, even though it solidified its positions almost everywhere. The most significant increase in values was observed in Krasnodar Krai, Saratov Oblast and Sakhalin Oblast. Next is the party “For the Women of Russia” (Za zhenschin Rossii) that only ran for the Regional Duma in Sakhalin. It showed admirable results there (even though it never got the deputy seats). Considering the party’s loyalist views towards the current government and its social policy, it can be assumed that the votes it received came from the supporters of United Russia and A Just Russia.

The Patriots of Russia came next in the average level of support volatility, mostly due to considerable losses in North Ossetia and no participation in elections in Udmurtia, where it got 4.6% of votes in 2012. CPRF placed only fifth, the votes for which were more stable. More people gave their votes to the communists in Saratov Oblast in particular, but the party took heavy losses in both republics and Sakhalin Oblast.

It is a curious fact that everywhere where the level of communist support has decreased, there is a correlation between these losses and the results of the newly created Rodina party that did not take part in the 2012 election. Although the founders of this party emphasize its ideological continuity with the organization that is now part on A Just Russia, there is no connection between the results obtained by these parties in the recent election.

On the regional level, the main conclusion is that the regional party systems are on their way to the stabilization phase. Almost all regions display a decrease in electoral volatility compared to the last election. Its slight increase in Sakhalin Oblast and almost no change in Udmurt Republic were the only exceptions.

The party system in North Ossetia proved to be the most stable (see Table 4), and the bulk of changes was with electoral volatility at that. The transition of votes from the Patriots of Russia to the “party of power” was what contributed to this volatility. United Russia strengthened its positions in the region even further, yet the party system managed to retain its characteristic features: the Patriots of Russia remain the second strongest party, A Just Russia took the third place pushing CPRF down to the fourth place, and LDPR are out of the parliament yet again. Although the number of parties participating in the elections in the republic has halved in the last 5 years, the inter-electoral volatility level was low: none of the parties that dropped out the election process had much population support. The level would be even lower if not for the participation of Rodina in the 2017 election campaign. We can assume that Rodina’s participation in regional elections will lead to further losses of votes for CPRF and the Patriots of Russia. In any case, it can be assumed that the party system in North Ossetia is still in the process of development.

Table 4. Volatility values of regional party systems during the 2017 election
Regions Electoral volatility index, % Inter-electoral volatility index, % General volatility index, %
Republic of North Ossetia-Alania 17.53 4.68 22.21
Udmurt Republic 8.24 5.83 14.07
Krasnodar Krai 6.37 3.9 10.27
Penza Oblast 4.32 3.02 7.34
Saratov Oblast 12.33 2.14 14.47
Sakhalin Oblast 8.37 8.07 16.44
Average across the group of regions 9.53 4.61 14.08

Calculations based on voting results in a single electoral precinct in the percentage of votes from the total number of valid ballots.

Although Sakhalin Oblast is inferior to Saratov Oblast when it comes to electoral volatility, thanks to the highest inter-electoral volatility value the general scale of changes in its party system is more significant. Aside from the abovementioned results of “For the Women of Russia,” (Za zhenschin Rossii) participation of the Communists of Russia in the elections of 2017 contributed to the increase of these values just as much as nonparticipation of the Party of Growth did. The three-party structure of the local Duma and the biggest share of self-nominated deputies (10.7%) add some distinctive characteristics to the party system in the region. As for the Saratov Oblast, the loss of eight minor parties at once and the return of Yabloko almost did not change the power balance in the region, aside from CPRF and LDPR strengthening their positions. The lowest electoral volatility level – 2.14% – was registered there as a result.

Penza Oblast demonstrates the lowest Pedersen and general volatility indices. Everything seems to indicate that this region has reached a certain level of political stability: party activity is relatively low, nobody questions the hegemony of United Russia, and parliamentary parties in the local legislative assembly maintain only a token presence while non-parliamentary parties are barely visible. The similar situation can be observed in Krasnodar Krai, where the participation of non-parliamentary parties in the elections is minimal, not to mention their representation.

To top it all, it is possible to view the case of Udmurtia as a median for the entire group of regions under study. Almost all electoral cycle trends manifested themselves in this case, but in softer form. Sifting of the nominated party lists was rather high there at 33%, but not as high as in North Osetia and Krasnodar Krai. United Russia got higher results, but not 15% higher as in the other republic, and was rather high, but not as high as in Penza Oblast. The share of votes given to non-parliament parties has noticeably decreased, but not 10 times as in Kuban. The quantity and the party structure of factions in the republic’s State Council did not change and coincides with the structure of State Duma. The general volatility value is only slightly different from the mean across the regions studied.

Therefore, it is possible to call the party systems highly stable in two out of six subjects of Russian Federation where the 2017 regional legislative election took place: Krasnodar Krai and Penza Oblast. The high entry barriers allow the elites in these regions to reach full electoral manageability. The situation in the Udmurt Republic and Saratov Oblast is just a little less controllable. The relatively high general volatility is characteristic of party systems in North Osetia and – with certain reservations – in Sakhalin Oblast. In the first case, it is determined by the results of the leading parties only while in the second the smaller parties make their contributions as well.

Applying the general volatility index allows for a better evaluation of the scale of changes that happen in the party system of a country or region. In this regard, the example of Sakhalin Oblast is the most distinctive since calculating the results of the parties that took part in the elections only once doubled the volatility level. Besides, dividing the index into electoral and inter-electoral parts allows us to make basic conclusions about the structure of these changes. The level of electoral volatility points at fluctuations in the support of the parties by voters and elites, i.e. at the dynamics of the demand on political market. The value of inter-electoral support allows to measure the short-term dynamics of political demand at least approximately.

Received 04.03.2018, revision received 02.04.2018.


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