By Paul Goble
“The greatest protest activity on March 26 occurred in regions which had shown the lowest level of participation the 2016 Duma elections,” according to new big data research by Sigma Expert and reported in today’s Vedomosti by journalist Anastasiya Kornya (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/03/31/683528-aktivnee-protestovali).
“In nine of the ten cities with the greatest share of participants in the meetings as a percentage of the total number of residents, participation in the elections was lower than for the country as a whole.” Among these cities were Smolensk, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Chita, Vladivostok, and Perm. The exception was the Daghestani capital Makhachkala.
Everywhere but there, elections expert Andrey Buzin says, it has been true since Soviet times that “non-participation in elections was a form of protest.” (For a study confirming that, see Jerome M. Gilison’s “Soviet Elections as a Measure of Dissent: The Missing One Percent,” American Political Science Review, 62: 3(1968), pp. 814-826.)
Nikolay Petrov of the Committee of Civic Initiatives points out that “the list of cities with high meeting activity to a large extent also corresponds with the top of ‘the tension rating’” compiled by his organization.
This connection is important and explains why Vladimir Putin and his entourage are so focused on ensuring that the Kremlin ruler gets not only a super-majority in the upcoming elections but does so with a high level of participation across the country, the goal being 70 percent on each of these measures.
But Sigma Expert’s use of big data also provides other insights into the ways in which people were mobilized to take part in the protests. “In contrast to the winter of 2011-2012 when Facebook was the main place, in 2017, the VKontakte network was the main instrument of mobilization,” the journalist writes.
And that explains why Navalny’s effort was so successful in reaching out to so many places: Only half of the 20 cities where the largest demos took place have a Facebook presence whereas VKontakte was an is “everywhere.” And that explains something else: the relatively small presence of bloggers in the leadership of Sunday’s actions.
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